Sydney Leroux: Syd the Sub
Like many U.S. Women’s National Team players, Sydney Leroux has been adjusting to the change from being a 90-minute player to a reserve. It’s so far, so good, for “Syd the Kid” and when she does get into a game, she knows what’s expected of her. And even better for the former UCLA star, it’s fun.
April 20, 2012
© Stephen Brashear/U.S. Soccer
For the first two years of her full international career, U.S. forward Alex Morgan played a role as a super sub, with U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage using her as a late-game addition to the U.S. attack. She almost always added tremendous spark, scoring some massively important goals. Sundhage let that talent simmer on the bench until it was perfectly ready to be served into a starting role. Sundhage knew that she shouldn’t put too much on Morgan’s shoulders too quickly, so she did what great coaches do: put her player in a position to succeed.
Morgan is now a starter and the USA’s leading scorer in 2012.
Now, it’s Sydney Leroux’s turn to start cooking.
The rambunctious striker, who is brimming with strength, speed and tenacity, partnered with Morgan to become the USA’s main scoring threats in winning the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Now she’s playing the role of the first forward off the pine. Like Morgan, she was a college and Youth National Team star. And like Morgan, she understands her place on the team, embraces it and plays it well.
“If I were starting, I would have to save my energy a little bit more,” said the 22-year-old Leroux. “If I know if I only have 15 minutes, my plan is to give the defense the worst 15 minutes of their game. My job is to run and get in behind, cause havoc and be a threat. If I were a starter, I would pick and choose my moments, but when I get in at the end of the game I feel like every moment is my moment.”
It didn’t hurt that Leroux got a big dose of confidence early in her career. In just her second career cap, earned last January during Olympic qualifying in her hometown of Vancouver, Canada, she came into the game at halftime and scored five goals in a 13-0 victory against Guatemala. That outburst tied a U.S. record for goals in a game.
“I hadn’t played a lot so I kind of felt I had to go in and prove myself,” said Leroux.
At the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, she proved – to her coaches and herself – that her scoring binge wasn’t a fluke, as she tallied twice as a sub against two of the world’s stronger teams, scoring against Denmark and Norway.
“The Algarve Cup really helped me,” said Leroux. “I wasn’t sure I could get the job done in limited time. After the first goal, I was like, ‘Whew, I scored.’ The second came off a cross from Amy Rodriguez, and then I told myself, ‘This can be done. I can play this role.’”
“Even though she has a small role, her chance to make the Olympic team is to be loyal to that role and do it the best she can,” said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. “At the end of the day, she has the chance to prove that she can come on, change the game a little bit and make the difference.”
Leroux admits to liking the underdog role, to being that young and relatively unknown player coming off the bench with the responsibility of creating chances. Leroux has played in eight of the USA’s 12 games so far this year, logging 172 total minutes. That’s an average of about 20 minutes a game, and that includes her full half against Guatemala. She plans take advantage of every minute.
“I get all excited while I’m warming up,” said Leroux. “It doesn’t look like it because I keep my game face on, but I am definitely smiling inside. Pia has told me what my role is and what she expects from me and that is always appreciated by a player. I see it as my getting the chance to go crazy for 15 minutes, and I have all the freedom in the world. When I get in, it’s go time for me, and that’s what I like about this role.”
Leroux is not known for her patience, but seeing how Morgan evolved into the player she is today gave her a crystal clear picture of how to earn a regular place on the WNT.
“I didn’t expect to come in and play right away,” said Leroux. “I know you have to work your way up. Sometimes it takes a couple of months, and sometimes it takes a couple of years. I’m ready to commit for as long as it takes.”
Sundhage says that while Leroux’s role is similar to Morgan’s last year, there might also be some tweaks.
“Last year we kept Abby [Wambach] on with Alex coming off the bench,” said Sundhage. “Now if Alex continues playing like she has been, and rarely want to take Abby off, we have a different way to add pressure to the opponents with Alex, Abby and Syd.”
And if “Syd the Kid” has her way, that won’t be too much fun for opponents.