Sunday, November 10, 2013
ORLANDO, Fla. – A little more than two years ago, Sydney Leroux was part of one of the more memorable games in recent W-League history.
The setting was the Western Conference Championship. The Vancouver Whitecaps Women, which also included such standouts as Canadian international Kalyn Kyle and Tiffany Weimer, looked to return to the W-League Championship as they faced the Santa Clarita Blue Heat on the road. After a back-and-forth contest that saw Leroux record a goal and an assist, the Whitecaps took a 4-3 victory through a late winner by Jenna Richardson to earn a place in the semifinals in Seattle.
While the game was only two years ago, as Leroux looked back ahead of Sunday’s U.S. Women’s National Team contest against Brazil at the Florida Citrus Bowl, it certainly seemed a lot longer ago to the 23-year-old standout.
“It’s crazy to think that three years ago I wasn’t really on the national team, so the W-League was my only kind of look because I had just finished college,” Leroux said. “It was really good for us, it was a back-and-forth game [against Santa Clarita] I remember, it was a long time ago, but I really enjoyed playing, it was fun.”
The fact that it does seem a long time ago to Leroux speaks to the quick ascent she has made in the women’s game, and the national consciousness. After making the decision to represent the United States on the national stage, Leroux has made 42 appearances and scored 22 goals as she has become part of a deadly attacking trio with Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan.
Those who saw her play for the Whitecaps Women, and in college for UCLA, certainly were aware of Leroux’s scoring prowess. She had 11 goals in 11 games for Vancouver in 2011, earning the league’s Rookie of the Year award, and when the call came from former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage to join the side for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, she quickly asserted herself as an important piece of the puzzle, providing instant offense off the bench with her standout speed and finishing.
“It happened pretty quickly,” Leroux said. “Then next year I ended up making the Olympic team, and we ended up winning. It’s been a wild two years, and I definitely wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Leroux’s experience in Vancouver wasn’t her last with the W-League, however. After the demise of WPS following the 2011 season, Leroux and fellow national team members Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Stephanie Cox and Hope Solo all signed with the Seattle Sounders Women ahead of the 2012 Olympics.
In contrast to the previous season with Vancouver, Leroux and her fellow national team members were now the attraction, and in the position of acting as role models for the younger players they trained and played alongside while in Seattle.
“I think we had so much fun in Seattle, it was great,” Leroux said. “Me, Alex, Hope, Megan, Steph, I mean we all had such a blast, and it was a really cool thing to be in the city, especially right before we were going to the Olympics, and the girls, to be some of their role models was pretty cool, because I know what it’s like to play with some of my role models, so I know the feeling, and I’m guessing that was pretty cool.”
Leroux now plies her trade on the club level for the Boston Breakers in the newly formed NWSL, which just concluded its first season. After a standout year that saw her score 11 goals in 19 games, Leroux is pleased with the standing of the league as it aims to grow its popularity during the coming years.
One of the factors that could help the new league find its place in the soccer hierarchy is expanded partnership with Major League Soccer and its clubs. After the on- and off-field success of the Portland Thorns, the only current NWSL club to be owned by an MLS franchise, Leroux is hopeful there will be more cooperation between the two leagues and their clubs in the future.
“I think so,” she said. “I think Portland did such a fantastic job, and I think that every single club is looking at Portland to see how they were so successful, and I think that was one of the reasons why they were so successful, because they had the backing of the Timbers and of Portland. Obviously, that’s our hope, that we can continue to connect with MLS.”
For Leroux and her national teammates, though, the start of 2014 brings a renewed focus on the next international cycle, and the 2015 World Cup. While the U.S. has won the last three Olympic gold medals, it has been since 1999 that the side has claimed the World Cup. With Tom Sermanni now at the helm, the side is aiming to complete an undefeated year against Brazil as it starts building a platform for victory in Canada two years from now.
“I think that’s all every single girl wants right now on the U.S. Women’s National Team is to win that gold medal,” Leroux said. “It would be a lot different if they had won it in 2011, but they didn’t. Winning an Olympics is amazing as it is, but it isn’t the World Cup, so we’re hungry for that, and I believe we’re going to have the best 11 people on the field, the best team, and we’re going to do what we can to win.”