Sydney Schneider: Sparta women’s Jamaican keeper looks forward to derby

Sydney Schneider

Next Saturday, Sparta Prague will take on city rivals Slavia Prague in the women’s edition of the most fiercely contested derby in Czech football. In goal for the hosts will be 24-year-old Sydney Schneider, who just weeks ago was at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with the Jamaican national squad. Ahead of the derby at Sparta’s 19,000 capacity Letná stadium, I spoke to Schneider at a club facility in the Prosek district.

Could you please tell us something about yourself – you’re on the Jamaican national team, but you’re from New Jersey?

Photo: jorono,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“Both of my grandparents on my mom’s side, so both of her parents, were born in Jamaica and then they moved to the States. They had my mom and then she had me – so that’s how it can be possible.”

You could also have played of course for the US, or for Germany – your dad is German. Why did you opt to play for the Reggae Girlz, as they’re called?

“They showed interest in me when I was pretty young, about 15 years old, and I’ve been with them ever since.”

Something like half of the Jamaican squad for the recent women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand were born in the US. Why are there so many American-born players in the squad?

“Jamaicans are all over, whether it’s in Jamaica or just around the world. I mean, we don’t really choose where our parents and grandparents move. So even though we’re not born and raised in Jamaica, we all have and share the same Jamaican blood.”

But is it the case that there are maybe better facilities in the US, or better training, for young girls?

“That’s something that we as a team want to improve. Obviously young girls especially are looking up to us and seeing that it’s possible. And we do have a lot of Jamaican-born players as well, to show that, from start to finish, their goal can be achieved.

“But yes, definitely something that we would like to improve upon is the youth game and their opportunity to thrive in Jamaica as well. So improving the grass roots programme is definitely something we want to do.”

Just to rewind a little bit, how did you get into soccer in the first place? And why specifically goalkeeping?

“Where I’m from as a kid everyone just gets thrown in and then you either stick with it or you don’t; I just happened to be one of the few that never stopped playing.”

Did you go in goal voluntarily as a kid? Most kids don’t want to play in goal – I know I didn’t.

“We were at a tournament and had no goalkeeper – I believe I was 15 years old – and the coach just threw me in.”

“[Laughs] No, I was not there voluntarily. We were at a tournament and had no goalkeeper – I believe I was 15 years old – and the coach just threw me in. I ended up doing well, but I did not like it at all. I was like, Get me out [laughs] – I want to go back to scoring goals!

“Then I became a field player for the next season and everyone was like, Why did you stop? You should continue.

“So I feel like it’s one of those things – you don’t find it, it finds you.”

Did that leave you with relatively good ball skills? Because today goalkeepers are expected to not just stop shots but also to be able to use their feet very well.

“Yes, that’s definitely one of the biggest improvements of the game –utilising the goalkeeper not just in a defensive purpose but also to start attacks and as an out when we’re under pressure. So yes, I think at first it definitely gave me an advantage over others.”

What about the mental qualities needed to be a good goalkeeper – what does it take to be a good goalie? To some degree you’re on your own, alongside the other 10 players.

“Yes, confidence is definitely something you need to bring into the game. Not only having confidence in yourself but in your team and your backline especially.

“I feel like the vibes, you could say, start from the goalkeeper. So if you’re spreading confidence that impacts every other play on the field.”

“But I feel like the vibes, you could say, start from the goalkeeper. So if you’re spreading confidence and instilling that in your team I feel like that impacts every other play on the field. And definitely leadership; being able to command and communicate I feel is very important.”

At 23, almost 24 [Schneider turned 24 the day after the interview], you’ve been to two World Cups, you’ve got 18 caps and Usain Bolt has even tweeted about you. What have been some of the biggest turning points in your career?

“I would say the biggest one, at the start, was the first World Cup, playing at such a big stage – honestly the biggest stage that you can probably play on…”

At 19.

“Yes, at 19 years old – such a young age. I feel that was a huge turning point in my career. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to play after college, but after that solidified what I was doing [laughs].”

Illustrative photo: Pedram Raz,  Unsplash,  CC0 1.0 DEED

At that World Cup were you already the established Jamaican goalkeeper, or were you thrown in, so to speak, for or during the World Cup?

“It was definitely a battle. Leading up to the World Cup I played in a few qualifying games and unfortunately in January that year I got hurt. I was in a cast for about six or eight weeks – something like that [laughs].”

Terrible timing.

“Yes. So I was stressed, I was panicking, but coming back into camp the coaches and the team were super welcoming. And it was definitely a battle for that starting spot.”

At the most recent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Jamaica came second in their group, ahead of Brazil. But then you were knocked out in the first knockout game by Colombia. How did you view, or how do you view, the overall achievement of the squad?

“[Jamaica] have proven time and time again that we belong, we’re not just there by luck.”

“Overall I think it’s amazing. We made history in more than one way [including by taking points in the group stage for the first time]. I think that’s something to be proud of, but I also think it’s something to build off of. We’ve proven time and time again that we are there, we belong, we’re not just there by luck.

“So going to our second consecutive World Cup and then making it out of the group stage with, I would say, very highly ranked and respected competitors – I feel that just shows what we’re made of.

“But you never want to lose. So that definitely leaves a taste in our mouth – and us wanting more.”

I had the impression during the recent Women’s World Cup that there was a lot more attention internationally than in the past. Is that something you would agree with, from your perspective as a player?

“Oh, I definitely agree. I feel like the game, especially the women’s game, is growing so much. It’s definitely gathering more and more attention from all over the world, which is what we want.”

At the beginning of this year you joined Sparta Prague. What led you to Sparta?

Photo: AC Sparta Praha

“I wanted to play, I wanted to be on a competitive team, I wanted to be in a competitive training environment – and most importantly I feel like, as all players, you want to be on the field.

“Where I was in the past: great training, great teammates, cannot say anything negative about that. But the most important thing, and thing you look forward to, is being on the field for those 90 minutes. That’s what I was mainly looking for.

“Sparta gave me that opportunity and I’ve been loving it.”

Had you ever been to the Czech Republic?

“No, I had not. It was my first time. And honestly it’s great.”

What have you most enjoyed about playing here and living here?

“Regarding playing, I would just say our team. I love our style of play: just building out from the back and keeping possession.

“And living here… I’m a huge coffee gal [laughs], so finding all the different coffee shops – there are so many to choose from, so many new ones. So whether it’s coffee or any of the historical sights, there’s a new adventure every day.”

I’m curious also about the language aspect. Most of your teammates are Czech and you as the goalkeeper have to instruct your teammates, so do you have to use a certain number of Czech phrases, or do you speak English?

“[My teammates] are super understanding and super patient with me learning the correct Czech phrases.”

“Fortunately enough, a lot of the girls speak really good English. Whether they like to admit it or not, they know a lot. But they’re also super understanding and super patient with me learning the correct Czech phrases. So I would say it’s half and half.”

What are some of the Czech phrases you would use on the pitch?

“Well [laughs], if I want somebody to step, I say ‘ven’. I don’t know if I say them perfectly! I say good job: ‘dobrá prace’. Left, right: ‘leva’, ‘prava’. ‘Zada’ for man on. So I’ve got a few in the bag [laughs].”

Illustrative photo: Kat,  Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

What are the conditions like for players here, compared to what you might find at a club in the US?

“It depends on what club you’re talking about. In the US there are some teams which share with a men’s team and they don’t really get priority, they kind of get the scraps of what’s left, the timing of training isn’t the best.

“But at other teams… Say where I was coming from in the US, Kansas City, have the first ever female only football stadium; there’s a practice facility right now and the stadium’s being built. That was amazing. We were the only one’s there, we had access 24/7. So that is a great environment and what they’re doing there is awesome.

“I feel like now that there’s one and the standard has been set a lot of clubs will follow.

“Here, we have a facility not necessarily to ourselves, but I want to say we’re one of the only Sparta teams here. And when we are here there’s no-one else. It’s our own locker room, our own training room for athletics trainers, so that is really nice, just being able to have a little home.”

We’re speaking at a Sparta facility in Prosek. Is this place where you play most of your games?

“Sometimes we’re in the men’s stadium at Letná, which is awesome and always turns out a big, loud, supportive crowd.”

“Home games, yes. And then sometimes we’re in the men’s stadium at Letná, which is awesome and always turns out a big, loud, supportive crowd.”

We’re talking ahead of one of those games, the Sparta-Slavia derby, the biggest game in Czech football. I presume, since you’ve been here January, that you’ve already played in at least one. How was that?

“Yes, I’ve played in a couple and… wow. It is amazing, just the competitive environment that it sets and just the work ethic and fight that it brings out of not only us but them; I feel like it just makes both teams better. It is such an environment to be in – such an amazing game.”

Letná Stadium | Photo: Guillaume Narguet,  Radio Prague International

Do you catch the excitement from your Czech teammates ahead of this huge derby?

“Oh yes, of course, being I guess semi-new, and not really knowing the history behind it or what it really meant to play in a derby game. But after playing in my first one… I mean, just prepping for it you can feel the energy, feel the excitement.”

You’ve already spoken about this but the big game is taking place at the EPET Arena, the Sparta stadium at Letna. What’s going to be your feeling walking out onto the pitch on Saturday for that game?

“Oh, it’s going to be amazing. Just being with the team and just knowing we’re there to fight for one of the biggest games. I think it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to exciting. And hopefully there’s a big crowd behind us, which makes it even better.”


Usain Bolt tweeted this out after Schneider saved a penalty against Brazil in the 2019 Women’s World Cup.