It’s not often that a top tier collegiate soccer program and a top tier women’s pro soccer team share the same backyard and play within 25 minutes of eachother.
But that’s the case with Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak’s UCF Women’s Soccer Team and Marc Skinner’s Orlando Pride.
Roberts Sahaydak, a former U.S. Women’s National Team player from 1994-2003, has seen the growth of women’s pro soccer over the past few years, having played in the old Women’s United Soccer Association and the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer), both precursors to the NWSL. Now, as the coach of the Knights since 2013, she has been able to see the growth of women’s soccer here in central Florida.
With the Orlando Pride arriving in 2016, it opened up a multitude of doors for the UCF program. Not only did it bolster recruiting, but it also began a relationship between the Knights and the Pride that would culminate in players not only training with the NWSL side, but also sign for them to play professionally.
“It’s a dream,” Roberts Sahaydak told the Orlando Soccer Journal. “I think to just to be able to say you have a professional team in your backyard, that you have a good relationship with. They’ll come to our games and watch us play and in our conference games. We don’t have to wait until the NCAA tournament for pro teams to watch us, so it is really just nice having them in our backyard.”
The relationship between the two teams began with former Head Coach Tom Sermanni. Roberts Sahaydak and Sermanni had a previous relationship dating back to the early 2000’s when Sermanni was coaching the New York Power of the WUSA. She was able to get to know him more as he moved up the ranks into the international level of coaching and through the USWNT.
However, when Sermanni left the team at the end of the 2018 season and Marc Skinner was brought in, that relationship was forced to begin anew with the new coaching staff. Luckily, through a mutual friend, Skinner and Roberts Sahaydak were introduced and the building of a new relationship began.
“Tiff and Tim (Roberts) came down to watch our sessions the first year, and we’ve got a good relationship with them,” Marc Skinner told OSJ recently. “So, it’s really important for us because I do believe because of the challenges they face, they have different challenges and different ways of playing and you learn to understand what some coaches want.”
“Does that meet your game model, do they have outliers that you can take into your model. I just feel coming from England, that the college game, America will always have the depth of player coming through, because of the unique challenges that each team faces,” added Skinner. “Whether it’s travel, whether it’s moving away from home and starting up again, whether it’s compacting and playing short amounts of seasons in bursts, to reload your body up to mentally get over that challenging three or four games in quick succession. It’s a wonderful challenge that we didn’t face in England and I think that helps build the resilience of a professional player in the future.”
Skinner continued: “Within that understanding comes not only watching the players play in matches, but also to have them train with you. A multitude of UCF players, whether currently enrolled or graduated, have had the opportunity to train with the team over the course of the last five years. Kim Reynolds, Bridgett Callahan, Carrie Lawrence, Zandy Soree, Carol Rodrigues and Konya Plummer, are just to name a few.”
The UCF coach also harped on how beneficial its been on having her players be seen as fruitful options from the Pride, whether it’s through an invitation to train with the local professional team and having the Pride visit their games to scout potential new players.
“It’s been a real benefit to for our players and then also for the coaches, to understand the type of players that we have and, what we teach them,” Roberts Sahaydak said. “I think that they respect our style of play and I think that can fit into how the Pride wants to play. So there’s that trust that has been built and then now that they’ve had some players have some success in their team, I think that they’ll always be looking at us and obviously that location helps a lot just because why wouldn’t they look over in their backyard?”
With UCF in the Pride’s literal backyard, a lot of times not only will coaches and scouts head over to campus to watch the Knights, but often times, they’ll go to watch their opponents as well. With the American Athletic Conference as competitive as any league when it comes to women’s soccer, it allows Marc Skinner and his staff to get a grasp of what the college game can offer his team. Since taking over in 2019, Skinner has been a massive proponent of the collegiate game and the relationship with UCF has helped bolster his opinions on the matter.
For Skinner, though, not only does having UCF in their “backyard” provide its benefits, but it gives the third-year Pride coach an even broader outlook at the soccer landscape across Florida, which as well is an added plus.
“What it does is it allows us a basis of understanding first and foremost because you get to see not only the UCF’s and the Gators and so on,” Skinner said. “We have many many high top level teams that, whether they have a peak or a through year in terms of results, they also have the individuals that are really, really excellent players. What I found from Florida from my time in the last two years is that it’s a real hub for talented individuals.
So, yeah, we’re privileged to have these people on the doorstep. And hopefully they feel privileged to have us there and feel part of it. I’ve tried to recruit Floridians to be part of what we’re doing so that it makes it feel like we are fighting for Florida and for everybody in Florida. When we step foot on the field, we want to we want to be a flagship for Florida when we go and compete in NWSL.”
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