Sydney Dawson: “I am very competitive person. If you’re in gym class, you don’t want to be on my team. because I want to win.” (Internationals SC Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

When players say they have been playing soccer since they were in diapers, that just might be a metaphor of how long they have been pursuing the beautiful game.

For Sydney Dawson, she actually has been kicking the ball around since she was around two-years-old when she was still wearing diapers.

“It’s a funny story, actually,” Dawson said. “I have an older sister [Jordan] and she started playing soccer when she was really little like four- or five-years old and I’m 18 months younger than her. I just liked to do everything my sister did. So, she would be at practice and my parents remember that I was literally in a diaper and I would be running around kicking the ball. Then they just put me in a jersey and let me follow her. They said I was way better than all those girls. Eventually I began to love it.”

Little did anyone realize at the time that Dawson would surpass most girls her age. In fact, the Internationals SC standout became so good that the Akron, Ohio native is part of the U.S. U-18/19 national team pool.

Not surprisingly, soccer was a perfect fit for the 5-6, 145-lb. defender-midfielder for so many reasons.

“I am very competitive person,” Dawson said. “If you’re in gym class, you don’t want to be on my team. because I want to win. I don’t care if its kick ball, I want to win. So, I love that aspect of soccer. When I play soccer, it gives me an opportunity to be creative and I feel like myself and all my worries go away. There is so much stress in life. When I’m playing soccer, I forget about all that for the 90 minutes. I can be myself and be creative. I like everyone around me feels the same way. They can be competitive and get on each other.

“No matter what happens on the field, it’s different. We’re friends off the field and if get on each other’s back on the field, that’s fine, that’s the game. Right when we step off we’re all cool again. So, I kind of love that aspect of it.”

Dawson, 18, brought that competitiveness to Internationals SC when she was nine-years-old.  Founder and president Zdravko Popovic has seen her grow as a player and as a person.

“Sydney has a passion and love for the game, which obviously is a prerequisite to excel in anything you do,” he said. “Sydney is disciplined. She is definitely a good athlete, but she complements it with her determination, desire and willingness to be the best that she can be. So, she’s has invested the time and effort and today it’s nice to see this is returning the investment to her.”

Popovic said he has been most impressed with Dawson’s soccer IQ.

“It’s not necessarily where she’s at but where she needs to be in her relationship to the ball,” he said. “She has a superior soccer intelligence, which she complements with skills. Her soccer skills are extremely balanced and strong. Her ability to possess the ball in possession and create opportunities for her teammates are superior.”

The learning curve has been beneficial for Dawson and her teammates.

“Well, obviously, the coaching staff is amazing at Internationals,” she said. “Just having these same coaches — and they are all extremely intelligent, soccer smart — I think that for the most part why I am the player I am today. They’re great at developing players. They don’t always focus on soccer. They’re raising good kids, too. They make sure your grades are good. If they come over to your house they make sure your room’s clean. I think that’s a big part of it. you just can’t focus on soccer all the time. That’s a big part of it.

“We train in an extremely competitive soccer environment every day, which is a big part because there are so many clubs in Ohio. You can go anywhere and no one has a nose for winning like they do, if that makes sense. They just create a great training environment. There’s no better place in Ohio to play soccer than for them.”

Dawson’s favorite player? Easy, that’s U.S. international Julie Ertz, from whom she has learned how to adapt to a new position. Ertz was asked to switch from center back to holding midfield for the U.S. squad. Dawson was moved from midfield to center back on the U.S. youth national team level.

“I always loved Julie Ertz,” she said. “Now I respect her more. She has taken more of a leadership role on the team. She shows that to be on national team, you have to be extremely versatile. She played center back and now she’s playing center mid and she’s still one of the best players on the team. Part of being on the national team, you have to be ready for whatever position they put you in. I remember my first camp. I got called up as a center mid and game day comes and, ‘Oh yes, you’re playing center back’ and that’s where I’ve been since. I was so nervous. So, having watched Julie Ertz, ok, they know what they’re doing. They put you there for a reason. You’ve got to embrace it. So, I really looked up to her and now more than ever because of the role she has with the national team. I’d say she’s probably my hero — on the full team.”

Dawson, who has attended 18 national team camps at various age levels, recently competed with the U.S. U-18 side at Women’s U-19 La Manga 12 Nations Tournament in Spain.

The Americans finished the competition at 0-1-2, well below their expectations.

“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “We didn’t play as well as we were hoping. We didn’t get the results we wanted. I actually went to the same tournament last year in La Manga, so it was cool having different teams and different experiences. Last year we had much better results. Different lessons were learned. it was really cool. In a sense, I was the tour guide for the team. Everywhere we went, I knew, so everyone was asking me questions. It felt kind of cool, knowing more than everyone on the team for once on where we were going. It was an awesome experience, going there with different friends this time and playing against great competition”.

Some tough lessons were learned, especially in a 6-0 loss to the Netherlands’ U-19 team. The U.S. allowed three goals in the final seven minutes, which is unheard of for many American national sides at any level.

“A big thing we learned was the USA mentality, what it takes just to play for the national team,” said Dawson, who did not play in that game. “I think as a group we gave up, three goals came in the last seven minutes, which says a lot about us. I think we all learned that putting on the jersey, you’re not just representing yourself anymore, but representing your country. You have to really take pride in that. The coach always says, for the full national team, they make it look easy, they made winning look easy. But we realize that we’re USA, so everyone’s going to play 10 times harder against us. We have to really take pride and show up to every game, like it’s a World Cup final. So that was a really hard lesson, but it was much needed. I think we’re going to grow from that.”

After graduating from Walsh Jesuit High School in a couple of months, Dawson’s next lessons — on and off the field — will be at Clemson University.

Asked why she picked the school, Dawson, replied, “I love the coaches. They’re amazing. And the school has always done well. They’re always in the top 20 for soccer. All the schools that I was looking at had great programs. The thing about Clemson was just the environment. Everyone there seemed happy. It’s a huge sports school, which I love. I love the energy there. It’s got great academics, too. Mainly it was the coaches. They’re unbelievable. I’m really excited to go. I can’t wait.”

In fact, she’ll be sooner than you think. Dawson the rest of the six women in the Tigers’ freshman soccer class will get an opportunity to get a real taste of the South Carolina school earlier than many other first-year players. They must attend orientation starting June 24 and take one summer class as well.

“It’s so early, but I heard so helpful getting adjusted, but it’s a lot of fun, too,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Clemson head coach Eddie Radwanski felt the Tigers got a special player in Dawson, calling her “one of the smarter players in the country, calm, composed, technically confident on the ball. Sydney is a great fit for our style of play.”

Dawson hasn’t declared a major, although there are several possible paths she might take.

“I honestly have no idea what I want to do,” she said. “I thought about teaching, physical therapy, coaching. … I’m definitely going to go with undecided.”

But she knew what she wanted to do after she graduates from college — play professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“That’s one of my dreams,” Dawson said. “And hopefully from there, if I play well, I’m hoping to get called to the full team.”

Dawson might wind up playing with a Women’s Premier Soccer League team. There is a club in nearby Cleveland.

“The coaches have contacted me and want me to play over the summer, but unfortunately, I had go to college very early, June 24,” she said. “That’s more for next summer. I’m going to try to play for one of those teams. My ultimate goal is to play in the NWSL.”

Popovic said he felt Dawson is well-positioned to pursue her dream.

“I think her future is bright. The sky is the limit,” he said. “It’s just going to depend upon how far she is going to get as a player. It’s going to be controlled by God willing, staying healthy first of all. Secondly, she is going to have to be at the right place at the right time. So far it has worked out well for her. She has been a marquee player for us at the club level.

“She gained well deserved recognition and got an early commitment from Clemson. Obviously, her college career is going to be a successful one. She is part of our national youth program. The options and opportunity are going to be there. I believe she is going to stay on track and I believe she is going to go far. I believe our professional league is going to get more stabilized and so the opportunity not only in this country but playing abroad is going to be there for her to pick and choose.”