The first time Sydney Cummings saw the Racing Louisville logo, it was on a hat one of her teammates at Georgetown was wearing. “It’s a really cool design - the colors are so nice and the design was awesome,” Cummings recalled. “My teammate, who is from Kentucky, jokingly had me put on the hat along with a Racing sweatshirt she had in her locker and took a photo of me.”
Cummings didn’t think twice about this seemingly fleeting moment in her life. But then, on Draft Day, her name was called out as the 42nd overall pick by none other than Racing Louisville. Her teammate texted her the photo as a reminder of that day, and a suggestion that perhaps this selection was meant to be. Cummings is now preparing to join her new teammates at Racing for the 10th season of the National Women’s Soccer League.
A Ten-Year-Old's Dream
The Millstone Township native has been playing soccer for as long as she can remember. She started her soccer journey playing town rec and travel soccer, following the path of her two older brothers who got into sports at young ages. In the 8th grade when her town team dismantled, she joined FC Copa, a New Jersey-based academy program. She was able to train at the Rutgers University facilities and truly discover her love of the beautiful game.
Although it may seem straightforward, Cummings’ journey to discovering her passion for soccer was not entirely linear. Three years prior, at just 10 years old, Cummings took it upon herself to reach out to a member of FC Copa's coaching staff, Lori Berman. Unbeknownst to her family, Cummings started a dialogue on her own with Berman, who was also a guidance counselor at her brother’s school. “She eventually asked me when I could get out to Rutgers for a tryout, and I ghosted her because I was 10!” Cummings laughed. “My parents had no idea.”
In retrospect, this was the moment Cummings knew that she was serious about pursuing a future in soccer. “I was serious about it, but I didn’t know how to express it at that age,” Cummings said. Three years later when her town team folded, Cummings and her family had to navigate the academy side of soccer in New Jersey, and wrap their heads around the investment required to go down that path.
Cummings did eventually go to try out for FC Copa, and she made the team. “Ten-year-old me was really looking out, but just didn’t know it yet,” Cummings said. “It’s one of those things you just don’t forget. Lori [Berman] and I still talk about it!”
— FC Copa Academy (@FCCopa) February 1, 2017
FC Copa utilized training facilities at Rutgers University, so Cummings spent a lot of time in Piscataway. She stayed with the team until she graduated from high school in 2017. In the summers, she would come back and play for their United Women's Soccer team, which is a second-division pro-am women's soccer league.
In addition to her time at FC Copa, Cummings also played soccer for Saint John Vianney High School (SJV) in Holmdel. She appreciated her time getting out of her small town and meeting people from different regions of the state. Most importantly, Cummings met the right people who believed in her. “I had an assistant coach there who I still talk to today,” Cummings said. “It was nice to have someone there who helped me grow.”
For Cummings, having the right people around her was the key to her success, especially once she reached college. Growing up in Millstone, she struggled to find other girls who looked like her, which impacted her in ways she wasn't able to fully process at the time. “I have a very distinct memory of putting my hand in the center circle, and realizing that all the other hands in the huddle were white,” Cummings recalled. “It’s not something you can really digest until you get older.”
As she progressed throughout her career at the youth level and in high school, Cummings saw diversity improve. But it was not until she got to Brown University that she truly felt that sense of belonging. When Cummings went on her official visit, she immediately noticed the diversity of her cohorts. “It’s really hard to describe that feeling,” Cummings said of feeling represented by her peers. “Head Coach Kia McNeill did a really great job of recruiting, and completely changing the program at Brown.”
I’m excited to meet the fans and be engulfed in that community. Louisville as a city is invested in women’s soccer, and that’s not something I saw growing up. I’m bought in and I’m ready!
As time went on, the importance of diversity became ingrained into Brown's team culture. When they would play other schools, Cummings would notice how very few Black players were on the opposing teams but also, how much those players shined.
“Imagine how much better the Ivy League could be by bringing more Black players in the space,” Cummings said. “Give them a platform to get a great education and also compete at the highest level - I think that’s what Kia McNeill was doing at Brown.”
Piscataway to Providence
Being part of the program at Brown was really special to Cummings. She recalled as a high schooler seeing Princeton play Villanova, and it really stuck out to her that the majority of the players on those teams did not look like her.
“For me, diversity was really important when I was looking at schools, and a lot of people couldn’t understand why I was doing that,” she said. “I was so young when I realized I looked different from the other girls on my team, and that’s something that has stuck with me.”
For Cummings, playing at Brown allowed her the opportunity to feel part of a culture where she always felt like she belonged. This feeling was extremely important to her and allowed her to thrive under the leadership of Kia McNeill.
— Brown Women's Soccer (@Brown_WSoccer) December 18, 2021
Much of the success of any player or team comes down to the coaching leadership, and according to Cummings, McNeill is a coach who cares about the players as people. “I can’t speak highly enough of her,” Cummings said of her former coach. “Even now, she’s still checking up on me - she’s been in my corner forever, and probably always will be.”
During her time with the program, Cummings picked up a number of individual honors. In addition to being named a Second Team All-American following her junior season at Brown in 2019, she also earned Second Team All-Ivy honors both her freshman and sophomore seasons before being named to the First Team as a junior. During her junior year, the center-back helped guide the Bears to single-season program record wins (14) and shutouts (13).
When I think of the U.S. Women’s National Team, I always think of Jessica McDonald. Not only because she is an incredible player but being able to look up at the national team and see a Black player is so important.
Her time at Brown under the tutelage of Coach McNeill was truly a life-changing experience for Cummings, and she is so happy she took the chance. “If I had known at 16 the impact that one individual would have on my life, I would have been so overwhelmed,” Cumming said. “I just trusted my gut and took a leap of faith.”
A Final Season, A New Reason
In March 2020, COVID-19 suspended college sports, giving student-athletes the opportunity to take a fifth year of eligibility. Because graduate students are not allowed to be student-athletes in the Ivy League, Cummings decided to complete her Bachelor's at Brown, enter the athlete transfer portal, and enroll at Georgetown. She could have elected to do a fifth year of undergrad, but Cummings had her eyes set on a new goal.
Early on in the pandemic, Coach McNeill had sent out training plans for the players to work on during their time off from the canceled season. These plans were not limited to physical training but encompassed mental and emotional aspects as well. One question required Cummings to look ahead to her future beyond soccer and she wrote down a single phrase: Georgetown’s Sports Industry Management master’s program.
When the time came for Cummings to make a decision to postpone her undergraduate degree or move forward, she had to make a difficult choice. She could stay with Coach McNeill and the strong program they were building at Brown, or she could once again take a leap of faith to start the next chapter of her life.
Even with the allure of Georgetown's solid soccer program, it was the academic offerings that drew her in. “It was really the school piece that made me decide to go,” Cummings explained. “Plus the fact that I would have had to take a semester off if I used my last year of eligibility with Brown.” Ultimately, Cummings was ready for a new challenge.
Georgetown ended up being the exact fit Cummings needed in her next stage. The fantastic soccer program coupled with an excellent education made it a decision she does not regret. Under coach Dave Nolan, Cummings continued to thrive with the Hoyas. She started all 22 games, scored a career-high five goals, and helped lead them to a BIG EAST Tournament Championship, and into the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
Preparing for the Pros
On NWSL Draft Day, Cummings found herself far from home. She was with her boyfriend’s family in Cincinnati in anticipation of the holidays. Not being with her family on such a momentous day was difficult, but they made the most of it - staying connected via FaceTime for the entire duration of the draft. “It was nerve-wracking!” Cummings said of draft day, which lasted for hours. “I’ve watched it the past four years as a passive fan, but this was my first time watching with a real personal investment - and it was stressful.”
Cummings tried to ignore all of the projections that came out, not wanting to get her hopes up for where she might end up. For her, it didn’t matter if she went in the first round or the fourth round. While some might think getting picked in later rounds means a club doesn’t care, Cummings believes the opposite.
“If you get drafted, it is a chance for you to show who you are, what you stand for, and that is what was really important to me,” she said. “I just wanted my name to get called - I didn’t care when or by who.” Cummings was ready to show any club who gave her a chance just what she could bring to the team.
The NWSL Draft is notorious for running quite long, and the 2022 Draft was no different. “It’s a taxing time,” Cummings said. “You're hungry, you don’t want to miss anything, you’re tired.” Cummings was selected as the 42nd overall pick by Racing Louisville, and when her name was called, she felt excitement and relief at the opportunity.
“When they called my name, my brother’s feed on YouTube was ahead of mine,” Cummings recalled with a laugh. “He starts screaming on FaceTime - and I looked at my boyfriend and said, I guess I just got drafted!”
Even with finding out in this way, getting drafted was a very meaningful moment for Cummings. “To hear people talk about you and acknowledge your accomplishments is special,” she said. “And this team just took a chance on me - so I immediately felt really grateful.”
While Cummings prepares to join Racing Louisville in just a matter of days, she is excited for the opportunity to be part of a roster with seasoned veterans, while also making her mark on a club that is still fairly new to the league. “When I think about Racing Louisville, I think about a great opportunity,” she said. “ That is something that is important to me.”
Pointing to the recent decision of former U.S. Women’s National Team star Jessica McDonald to sign with the team, Cummings explained that a team like Racing is still a blank slate with limitless possibilities for both individual and team goals. “I've always been a leader on my teams, but I’m excited to learn from other people,” she added.
As a central defender, Cummings is hoping she can step into the team and make an immediate difference, including adding depth to their available center-backs. “I am excited for the opportunity to compete and show that I want and deserve to be here,” Cummings said. “But it’s also nerve-wracking to play against people you’ve looked up to your entire life!”
She’s the first Brown University alum to get selected in the NWSL Draft.
Learn more about the 42nd pick, @sydney_cummings.
— Racing Louisville FC (@RacingLouFC) December 24, 2021
In addition to her skills on the ball, Cummings is hoping to bring a piece of herself to the team culture. “I’m just hoping to be authentic,” Cummings said. “I’m a bit quirky and weird, so I’m hoping I can bring my personality - especially on a team that has people from all over the world and a lot of different personalities already. I’m excited to be in a team environment where not everyone is the same.”
Although she is nervous, Cummings is excited to start this new chapter in her life. She cannot wait to be playing with and against the people she has looked up to her entire life. In particular, she cannot wait to learn from fellow center-back Gemma Bonner, as well as other veterans on the team who have been playing domestically and internationally.
“When I think of the U.S. Women’s National Team, I always think of Jessica McDonald,” Cummings said. “Not only because she is an incredible player but being able to look up at the national team and see a Black player is so important.”
In addition to the veterans, Cummings is looking forward to training with the young talent on Racing’s roster. “It’s a fun group, and a lot of them are so inspiring for who they are and what they do outside of soccer,” Cummings said. She is trying to figure out what she can do for her community that is bigger than soccer. “I’m looking forward to finding out where I fit in and how these girls can help me figure that out.”
As Cummings joins Racing, she wants the fans to know she’ll always give her best to the club. “Saying you'll give your best is something that a lot of people will just say, but I am ready to buy into whatever my role is with Racing,” Cummings said. “That’s something that is really important to me.”
Cummings is also looking forward to interacting with such an engaged fanbase. “I’m excited to meet the fans and be engulfed in that community,” she said. “Louisville as a city is invested in women’s soccer, and that’s not something I saw growing up. I’m bought in and I’m ready!”
To watch Sydney Cummings play for Racing Louisville, visit the club's website for ticket and schedule information.