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Next stop for Rebel alum Sydney Martinez – Brooklyn
Sydney Martinez
Former-Effingham County soccer star Sydney Martinez helped the women's national team of Puerto Rico advance to group play at the Gold Cup earlier this year. (Submitted photo.)

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

Sydney Martinez’s No. 1 goal in soccer has always been to stop goals.

And her talents in the nets, sharpened at Effingham County High School, led to her recent No. 1 selection by Brooklyn FC in the inaugural United Soccer League’s Super League – an eight-team women’s professional league which kicks off in August.

“You have this dream, ‘Hey, I want to play professionally,’ and as a kid you think it’s going to come easy,” said Martinez, 24. “But you have to work. You have to get through ups and downs. It’s all been worth it. Now I’m living my dream.”

The dream didn’t come to fruition overnight, although Martinez’s skills seemed evident early on. She’s six feet tall, so opponents have trouble shooting over her and her fearlessness and aggressiveness around the net thwart potential scoring chances from crosses and loose balls.

Martinez’s acrobatic, one-handed save off a direct kick against South Effingham during her senior year won’t be forgotten.

“Just Sydney being Sydney,” said area youth coach Robert Long about the save after the game.

A few weeks later, Martinez pitched a shutout, stopped two penalty kicks in overtime and booted the decisive PK in a 0-0 (4-2 in penalty kicks) victory over Houston County in the state tournament.

“No keeper will stop them all, but Sydney will stop any of them that can be stopped,” said Rebels coach Blake Kessler after the match.

Martinez didn’t mind putting in extra work to hone her craft. During her senior year in high school, she drove to Jacksonville to practice with the highly regarded soccer organization, Armada.

She jumped at the opportunity to travel to Brazil with the Region III Olympic Development Team.

Martinez, an all-state performer, landed a scholarship with a budding soccer program at the University of South Florida. As a five-year starter, she compiled a 54-21-5 record with 25 shutouts. She was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference goalie in 2020 and earned second-team, all-conference honors in 2018 and 2021.

Her 0.45 goals against average in 2020 is a school single-season record.

Sydney Martinez 2
Former Effingham County soccer standout Sydney Martinez distributes a pass to her South Georgia Tormenta FC defense during a 2022 match. (Photo by South Georgia Tormenta FC)
After her fourth season at USF, she came home for the summer and played with Tormenta FC and won the Golden Glove Award, symbolic of the top goaltender, while leading South Georgia to the inaugural USL W championship.

Despite the success, Martinez decided to go back to South Florida for a fifth season, allowed by the NCAA because of the disrupted COVID season.

“I just felt like I wasn’t ready for the big-time yet,” said Martinez, who has a degree in business management with a minor in criminology. 

Last year, after college, she played professionally in Norway (from February to November) with IK Grand Bod^o. The town of Bod^o is north of the Arctic Circle.

“It stopped snowing in May and started back up in September, but it was beautiful with the ocean and mountains in the background,” Martinez said. “We had an indoor stadium, but some teams played outdoors. Sometimes you’d see snow piled up 10 feet tall.”

The Norwegian team disbanded after the season, but Martinez’s career heated up (temperature-wise) when she represented Puerto Rico’s National Team in the CONCACAF W Gold Cup (a first for women), a tournament for countries in North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Martinez helped Puerto Rico (a separate entity from the United States women’s national team) advance to group play by recording 11 saves, including a stop on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute, to defeat Haiti, 1-0.

“There have been a lot of penalty kicks in my career and I’m not liking it,” said Martinez, jokingly.

She turned aside a late penalty kick in the USL W championship game en route to the title with Tormenta in 2022.

In the Gold Cup, Martinez and Puerto Rico defeated Panama 2-1, but lost to Brazil 1-0 and Colombia 2-0 and failed to advance.

This summer, she worked out with Tormenta to stay in shape for her next challenge with Brooklyn FC.

Martinez said the Super League should rival the more established National Women’s Soccer League. The new league is expected to add nine teams in 2025.

“It’ll be a new experience so I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to lose my Southern accent.”

Not everything will be foreign. Martinez’s college coach, Denise Schilte-Brown, left USF after the 2023 season to coach the Super League’s Tampa Bay team. Brooklyn plays at Tampa Bay in Week 3.