It’s not always easy being the new kid on the block.
But Sydny Nasello had no problem fitting in at USF last season.
Nasello, then a freshman, started all 19 games in 2018, leading the AAC with eight assists on her way to a selection to the AAC All-Rookie Team.
Make no mistake, though, she earned her spot in the starting 11 of a top-25 team.
“I don’t think that you can come into a new atmosphere and just expect to start,” Nasello said. “I think you have to work really hard for it and I think I did that over the summer with fitness and touching the ball and making sure that I came in prepared and it paid off.”
But it’s not like the summer of 2018 was the first time she hit the pitch.
Nasello comes from a big soccer family. Her father, Tim, played at Sangamon State (now known as Illinois Springfield) from 1985-87 and won an NAIA national championship in 1986.
Her sisters all play soccer, too. Holly Nasello played at Point University (West Point, Ga.), Lacy currently plays at Tampa, while her younger sister Lexy plays for Tampa Bay United.
There’s no sibling rivalry, though. In fact, Sydny and Lacy will attend each other’s games — provided Tampa and USF are not playing on the same night — as will Holly.
Her family being nearby is a big boost for the Land O’ Lakes product.
“It’s easier to play, because I have my friends and family that are able to always be at the games — 30 minutes from home,” Sydny said. “It’s more like a confidence thing and I have a lot of support off the field.”
Even though their father played soccer, and they all wound up playing it too, none of the Nasello sisters were forced to play the sport, according to their father. Their only requirement was that they “couldn’t just sit at home,” as Tim put it. Whether it was sports, band or drama was up to them — they just all happened to pick soccer.
In fact, Sydny has been playing since she was 3 years old — and she had quite the debut.
“I was coaching Lacy … and we were playing a game and Sydny always dressed up in a pink uniform and soccer shoes like her sister, and she would come to the games and sit on the sideline and dribble a soccer ball around,” Tim said. “And then there was a game when we were beating the team or whatever — we really didn’t care at that age.
“I went to the other coach and asked him if I could put Sydny in the game. And he said, ‘Absolutely.’
“Well, I put her in the game and she scored two goals. And then he told me I had to take her out. And that’s a true story — she was 3 years old.”
She has trained tirelessly since then, according to Tim, including using a technique that Pelé used — a wall.
“I would say she averaged about 20 minutes a day on the wall,” Tim said. “Even up until a couple of years ago, I would hear it on the side of our house, and my wife and I would go outside, even in high school and she’d be working on things on the wall because she didn’t need anybody to help her.”
It’s safe to say the wall helped. In addition to the accolades she earned while playing at Land O’ Lakes High School — All-State in 2017, All-Tampa three years and All-Conference three years are just a few — Sydny earned perhaps the biggest accolade to date during the late stages of her high-school career: an invite to a U.S. women’s national U-18 training camp in 2017.
“It was a lot of fun … I used it as a learning experience,” Sydny said, “because obviously I want to play pro later on. And see what I’m up against — people my age, what they’re doing better than me and kind of compare myself to everyone else’s that’s in the age group.”
While being interviewed about the invite at the time, Sydny, who usually doesn’t like talking about herself, according to Tim, opened up about how much the invite meant to her.
“There was an interview on the local TV where we got to really see how excited she was, and that was on channel 13,” Tim said, “and she talked about her dream to be the next Alex Morgan, and this was her chance to start getting there. And that’s when her mom and I really saw that it was special to her because she never showed that to us.”
Those around Sydny believe she has the ability to one day make the senior national team and fulfill that dream she expressed on TV.
“I think she has the ability to do that if she continues to mature as a player,” USF assistant coach Chris Brown said. “She’s definitely headed on that upward trajectory, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t have an opportunity to play for the full national team one day.”
Sydny may have helped her cause earlier this season by scoring a dramatic game-winning goal with 20 seconds remaining in regulation against Auburn on Aug. 22. The video was ultimately picked up by the NCAA soccer Twitter account.
“So last year, not too many shots on goal for me, and going into this season, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to shoot the ball,’” Sydny said. “I looked, saw the clock … not much time left on the clock, so I was like, ‘If I’m in front of the goal, I’m shooting the ball.’”
She shot the ball, all right. Sydny put it in off the crossbar, in an area where the Auburn goalkeeper had no chance of saving it. As dramatic as it was, it was just another example of Sydny’s creativity.
“The instincts and the things that she tries,” Brown said, “and that she’s able to successfully pull off as a player in terms of her ability on the ball are pretty incredible.”
How far those instincts take her remains to be seen, but they’ve served her well to date.