ZARQA, JORDAN >> Sydney Zandi’s West Chester Henderson teammates are in the midst of another tough season of Ches-Mont League battles.
But Zandi herself has other pressing matters to attend to, like the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup, which kicked off this week in Jordan.
Zandi, a midfielder for the United States team, did not play in Saturday’s group stage opener, a 6-1 win over Paraguay at the Prince Mohammed Stadium in Zarqa. But she hopes to see action later in the tournament.
“We’re trying to take one game at a time and not worry about the others because once we keep winning, the more we’ll advance on,” said Zandi last week, when the team was in Cyprus preparing for the tournament. “And we’re just trying to stick to our core values and, as a midfielder, I’m just trying to play the style of play they want me to and how I normally play no matter who our opponent is.”
The American women will be facing different styles of play in Group D during the World Cup, with Ghana, Japan and Paraguay as the first set of obstacles to a title.
Zandi and her teammates prepared for the tournament with a series of games in Sarasota, Florida, including friendlies against Venezuela. The U17 players beat Venezuela, 5-1, in the second game against the South American team.
“They play much more direct and when they would come on the field before the game and they were warming up, they would do their chants and yell and we’ve never seen that before,” Zandi said. “It’s definitely a lot different because you could see how passionate they were for their country, how determined they were to win, which was a completely different atmosphere than we ever experienced.”
Soccer is a family affair for Zandi and her family. She was on the American U14 team and was scouted at an Olympic Development Program event.
“Once I got the first invite, I was like this is what I want to do,” she said, adding that the more competitive the tournament, the more excited she gets. “This is the kind of environment that I want to be surrounded by at all times. So, I’ve just continuously worked hard and improved my game to try and make it this far.”
Zandi has already committed to the University of Virginia, where she will join the Class of 2021. She made the decision during her sophomore year at Henderson, and now she’s a senior.
Despite being halfway around the world, Zandi and her teammates must still focus on the high school coursework they are missing at home. Academics remain a priority, even though it can be hard to focus.
Zandi said she and her teammates usually miss about a week of school every month. But in this case, they are hoping to be gone for the full five weeks, which would mean they advanced all the way to the U17 World Cup final, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 21, in Amman, Jordan.
That means online classes.
“Now that it’s online school, it’s a lot better because it gives me a lot more time to train,” Zandi said.
Usually, she does homework during the camps and takes all the make-up tests when she returns.
The players say they have a team playlist, at times dancing in the locker room and getting pumped for the action. When Zandi takes the field in Jordan, she will not be without her headband for each and every game.
“I always have to wear the same headband,” Zandi said. “I have this weird superstition where it’s this red, white and blue tie-dye headband that I made and I have to wear it for every game.”
She’s even made one for each of her teammates.
This will be the first female world cup played in the Middle East. Zandi said she heard games are being well-advertised in Jordan and the trophy has been visiting schools to inspire kids. She said the push for empowering women in the region through sport is really inspiring.
As for coach BJ Snow’s advice as they look ahead, Zandi said they’ve been told to focus on their game play.
“But at the end of the day, just to stick to what we usually do and just fight through everything with our grit and just have self-belief so that in the end even if we lose, we still know we tried our best,” Zandi said.
Jillian Angeline is a journalist working with the AIPS Reporter Programme (International Sports Press Association) and traveling with the United States team at this month’s FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan. She will providing periodic updates on West Chester Henderson’s Sydney Zandi and the U.S. team for the Daily Local News. Her website is www.4jillianangeline.com. You can follow her on Twitter @JLAngeline.