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Kim Wyant’s life in soccer has spanned multiple decades. Wyant accomplished everything from a spot on the first United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) in 1985, to leading the New York University (NYU) men’s soccer team to an NCAA Tournament appearance this past season. Wyant’s soccer resume is stacked, even though she did not begin playing the sport until she was an upperclassman in high school.

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By the time her high school added a soccer team, Wyant had already established herself as a star athlete in volleyball, basketball, and softball. Then the head coach of the newly established soccer team approached Wyant after one of her basketball games and convinced her to try out for the team.

“I was a little bit familiar with the sport but not totally,” Wyant said. “I remember walking out to the pitch on the first day of practice and I was not very keen on running up and down the very large field I was looking at. So, I asked the coach if it was okay if I played goalkeeper.”

You would think that having someone who never played soccer before handle the most important position on the field would be a disaster. But Wyant had already excelled at other sports, and her athleticism was on full display as she proved to be a natural in the net. She caught the attention of one of her teammates, who suggested that Wyant join her club team.

“She played on the best club team in the Miami area, basically the best team in the whole state,” Wyant said. “She told her club coach about me and he recruited me to come play for him. Stepping up to the club team helped me get the exposure I needed to go play in college.”

Wyant went on to have an excellent four-year career with the University of Central Florida Knights. It was there that Wyant was coached by Jim Rudy, who had a reputation for molding excellent goalkeepers. With his help, Wyant became one of the best goalies in the country and helped lead her team to the first-ever NCAA Women’s National Championship game as a freshman.

Although the Knights lost the game to the University of North Carolina, Wyant still took home Tournament MVP honors and was named the team’s Rookie of the Year. As a senior, Wyant was named First Team All-American and team MVP.

To this day, Wyant still ranks eighth all-time in career shutouts (18) at UCF, and her 0.60 goals-against average as a freshman is the eighth-lowest for a single season in club history. Wyant’s collegiate career came to an end in 1985, but her playing career was far from finished, even though professional women’s soccer was not as prevalent then as it is today.

“International women’s soccer was really in its infancy,” Wyant said. “There were a lot of good people at U.S. Soccer who were interested in the women’s game and pushing the women’s game. It had gone into a dormant period for a very, very long time basically because of rules that were created by federations that were dominated by males who thought that women couldn’t play soccer. But we were coming into an era in the 1980s where international women’s soccer was reignited. Around that time, somebody made the decision to create the women’s national team.”

A tournament was held in Washington, D.C. in 1984 by the U.S. Soccer Federation, and a national team was selected at the end of the tournament. Wyant was selected, but the team did not compete in any matches.

Another tournament was held the following year at the 1985 Olympic Sports Festival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That year’s team was put together with the intent that they would compete against other international squads, and Wyant was one of 17 players selected to the first-ever USWNT out of the nearly 80 players who were at the Olympic Sports Festival.

“They gathered us on the field with a couple of administrators for U.S. Soccer and the head coach of the team, Mike Ryan,” Wyant said. “They read aloud the names of the players who were selected to the team in front of everyone. It was pretty old school.”

A few weeks later, the team traveled to Jesolo, Italy for the first four matches in USWNT history. Wyant was one of the players who competed in the club’s inaugural match.

“My favorite memory of my playing career by far is the very first women’s national team match that happened in Italy,” Wyant said. “We all knew what it meant to be on the national team — you were chosen as one of the best players in the country and were selected to represent your country. But I don’t think it really sank in until we were lining up for the international walkout and they started playing the national anthem.”

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Wyant would go on to play a total of 16 games as a member of the USWNT and recorded the first shutout in team history with a victory over Canada in July 1986. Even after her time with the USWNT came to an end, Wyant remained on the pitch — her playing career extended well into the early 2000s.

Kim-Wyant

Long before she became a head coach at NYU, Wyant came to the New York area after joining the then-Long Island Lady Riders of the newly formed United Soccer Leagues (USL) W-League for the 1995 season. Wyant was her usual outstanding self during her time with the Lady Riders — she was the netminder for two championship teams in 1995 and 1997, won Tournament MVP honors in 1997, and was named Goalkeeper of the Year for four consecutive seasons from 1995-98.

The time to stop playing the sport was approaching for Wyant, but no athlete can play the sport they love forever. Coaching however allows athletes to stay involved with the sport they love long after their playing days come to an end. That’s why Wyant began her coaching career while she was still dominating on the pitch.

“I actually took my first coaching job with a junior varsity high school team while I was still in college,” Wyant said. “The players on the women’s national team would get together prior to a competition to train, and your life had to somehow open up so you could drop everything and fly somewhere for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t have a real job, but coaching allowed me to control my own schedule. None of the players back then could have a real job because of their commitment to the team. Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain; they were all putting their lives on hold and working odd jobs since there was no money being paid to these players to be on the team. They did all of this so they could represent their country. It was a tremendous sacrifice that players were making during the early years of the program.”

Although players had to put their lives on pause for training and competitions, there was still a lot of downtime in between the training and competitions. That, combined with the sport’s growing popularity in the United States, allowed Wyant to take on several coaching gigs while she was still a member of the USWNT.

Wyant eventually served as a head coach in her home state for the Florida Atlantic University women’s soccer team from 1994-97 while she was also a member of the Long Island Lady Riders. Soon Wyant brought her coaching career to New York, working with Dowling College, Stony Brook University, and taking over as the general manager for the Lady Riders. After stepping down from the position in 2007, Wyant took a hiatus from the sport before becoming the head coach of the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) women’s soccer team, a position she still holds today along with her work at NYU.

Wyant first came to NYU in 2011 as an assistant coach on the women’s soccer team but was named the head coach of the men’s team during the 2015 season, becoming the only woman in the NCAA who is the head coach of a men’s soccer team. Some people may think that coaching a men’s team comes with a different set of challenges than coaching a women’s team, but Wyant doesn’t see it that way at all.

“What players want is no different, whether they are men or women,” Wyant said. “They want to know that you’re invested in the team, what the direction is, and what the goal is. They want to know what their role is and how they can get better. That goes for men and women, so I don’t think there is any difference at all.”

Under her guidance, Wyant has led the Violets to three Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships and two NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons. The Violets’ most recent appearance this past fall saw them win their opening round match in overtime against Saint Joseph’s College of Maine.

“You could not believe the pandemonium and mayhem that happened on the sideline after we scored,” Wyant said. “It was unforgettable and I will never forget that moment. A year before that game we weren’t playing and we weren’t sure when we were going to play again. I am so grateful and thankful that we had a great season, [we] were COVID free, and [we] were able to get out and compete again.”

Wyant’s success with NYU begs the question — why aren’t there more women in the NCAA who are serving as the head coach of men’s teams? It isn’t uncommon to see men coach women’s teams, but Wyant is the lone head coach of a men’s team at the collegiate level.

“There’s no reason that women can’t work with boys at any level for any sport,” Wyant said. “Most of the teachers in this country are women, so boys learn from women teachers all the time. I see myself as a teacher and as an educator. I hope that leaders in clubs and universities are more open-minded to allowing women a chance at coaching positions for boys’ and men’s teams.

“I am very happy at NYU and I have a lot of work to do here, but sometimes I wonder what my next step is going to be in the NCAA men’s game. I have spoken to a colleague who has told me he isn’t sure if there is an athletic director out there who has the guts to hire a woman to coach their men’s team. It’s a shame, but it is probably true. It’s like they feel they are taking a big risk by doing that. But is hiring someone like Jill Ellis really a risk? She is one of the best coaches in the world and is more than qualified to be considered for a lot of these jobs. It is probably going to take an athletic director who doesn’t see it as a risk, but there are a lot out there that do.”

Perhaps in the future, less and less athletic directors will see it as a risk, and more and more women will be coaching men’s teams. If that happens, we can point to Wyant as an example that it was never a risk at all. But as it stands, we can point to Wyant as a soccer lifer who has seen it all, is continuing to have success in the sport, and helping to shape its future for the better. And it all started when Wyant didn’t want to run up and down a large field.

Photo credit: Shutterstock, Jeffrey Bernstein