Soccer introduced them, service led them. Two childhood friends played soccer and served at the U.S. Military Academy.
Omaha natives Emily Torres and Sydney Cassalia grew up playing soccer together and continued their academic and athletic careers when they attended the military academy in West Point, New York. Their soccer journey began when they joined the same club team at 12 years old. Although they attended different high schools, the two say they remained close and relied heavily on each other throughout the process of deciding where they’d each want to attend college.
Sydney’s older sister, Jordan, attended West Point and played soccer there, too, which helped open Sydney’s eyes to attend the academy herself.
“I was hyper focused on giving Sydney all the information I could,” Jordan said. “I wanted her to make an informed decision for herself and to not feel pressured to follow in my footsteps.”
All that information helped Sydney decide to go on a visit. She said that she immediately was able to see herself there.
“I wasn’t sold on shooting rifles or really anything that you think of when you think of the Army,” Cassalia said, “But I knew I was passionate about the medical field and serving others. I realized I could combine both of those things in the Army.”
She said she had her sights set on being a doctor in the Army and to continue playing soccer competitively. West Point was the perfect place for her to do both.
Emily’s decision to attend West Point wasn’t as easy. During her and Sydney’s freshman and sophomore years of high school, the Cassalia sisters said they put a lot of effort into selling the idea of the Academy to Emily. The sisters thought it would be a great fit for her, too.
Though against the thought of having any involvement with the military, over time Emily said she opened up to the idea. She reached out to the West Point coaches during her sophomore year which kicked off her recruitment process.
Emily was asked what she was looking for after high school.
“I knew I wanted to be somewhere that challenged me and where I’d have the opportunity to play the sport I love,” Torres said. “West Point happened to fit both of those categories for me perfectly.”
The decision to attend West Point was a thought-out one for both Emily and Sydney. However, the application process is anything but easy. Unlike a conventional college or university, the admissions process is extensive and requires multiple essays, a congressional nomination which includes interviews, a fitness test, and other medical requirements that state that you cannot depend on medication to live.
“Allergies, asthma, and several other things often prevent people from getting accepted,” Cassalia said. “The application process is extensive. It was awesome having someone like Emily by my side, someone who understood the hard work and time dedication that a place like West Point requires.”
The education West Point provides is free of charge along with the commitment to serve active duty for five years after graduation, a sort of contractual agreement. In most cases, graduates must complete commission right after graduation unless they receive special approval from the academy.
Both women were accepted into the academy during their sophomore years and were ready to begin the next phase of both their academic careers and their athletics.
Cassalia was a goalkeeper and Torres was a defender. The pair guarded the backfield together for four seasons and would finish with some impressive stats by the end of their college careers at the Academy.
Torres finished her career with 60 games played, 54 of which she started, 25 shots attempted, and six shots on goal. Cassalia followed suit 62 games played, 43 of which were starts. She totaled 5,871.37 minutes in the goal, and allowed just 56 goals in her 62 games played. Her save count is 256.
Torres was asked what the main takeaways from her time at the Academy were.
“These three main points; the people, the opportunities, and the ability to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Torres said. “Being surrounded by ambitious and determined individuals who I knew would push me to be the best vision of myself.”
The opportunities that West Point provides to its students seem to be unmatched, Torres said.
“The Academy provided me with a place to live out my dream of playing Division I soccer,” She said. “to pursue a very high level of academics, to further develop my leadership skills, and an opportunity for a unique career.”
Since graduating as second lieutenant, she is currently working her five years of commission stationed in El Paso, Texas. She is currently working towards her promotion to first lieutenant.
Cassalia took a different route after graduation with her sights set on playing professional soccer. In January of 2021, she entered the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Draft. She was in contact with three teams just before it.
Kansas City got her discovery rights out of the draft. Though nothing came of it, Cassalia didn’t stop there. She did a week of training with Washington Spirit during the international break. She later was in contact with the Houston Dash about attending their fall training. She also received invites to Orlando Pride and Angel City for preseason work.
Cassalia and her agent felt it was in her best interest to go to Angel City to put in work as her odds as a goalkeeper there were better than in Orlando. Angel City, however, cut her one week into preseason.
“I left there with my confidence at an all-time low,” Cassalia explained. “After some self-reflection, I felt it was in my best interest to call it a career and retire.”
Though Sydney’s dream to play professional soccer was cut short, she refuses to step away from the game. Cassalia will return to her alma-mater, Millard West, to volunteer for the varsity girls soccer team. This summer she also plans to play in the United Women’s Soccer League which is an amateur summer league that looks to further women’s soccer. She said she will continue to do those two things while she waits to receive her commission and orders from the Academy.
Though soccer was the foundation that Sydney and Emily built their friendship on, service and the U.S. Military Academy will tie them together for life.