Sydney Leroux: Syd the Sub
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 shouldnâ€™t put too much on Morganâ€™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 USAâ€™s leading scorer in 2012.
Now, itâ€™s Sydney Lerouxâ€™s turn to start cooking.
The rambunctious striker, who is brimming with strength, speed and tenacity, partnered with Morgan to become the USAâ€™s main scoring threats in winning the 2008 FIFA U-20 Womenâ€™s World Cup. Now sheâ€™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.
â€œIf I were starting, I would have to save my energy a little bit more,â€ said the 22-year-old Leroux. â€œIf 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.â€
It didnâ€™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.
â€œI hadnâ€™t played a lot so I kind of felt I had to go in and prove myself,â€ said Leroux.
At the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, she proved â€“ to her coaches and herself â€“ that her scoring binge wasnâ€™t a fluke, as she tallied twice as a sub against two of the worldâ€™s stronger teams, scoring against Denmark and Norway.
â€œThe Algarve Cup really helped me,â€ said Leroux. â€œI wasnâ€™t sure I could get the job done in limited time. After the first goal, I was like, â€˜Whew, I scored.â€™ The second came off a cross from Amy Rodriguez, and then I told myself, â€˜This can be done. I can play this role.â€™â€
â€œEven 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,â€ said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. â€œAt 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.â€
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 USAâ€™s 12 games so far this year, logging 172 total minutes. Thatâ€™s an average of about 20 minutes a game, and that includes her full half against Guatemala. She plans take advantage of every minute.
â€œI get all excited while Iâ€™m warming up,â€ said Leroux. â€œIt doesnâ€™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, itâ€™s go time for me, and thatâ€™s what I like about this role.â€
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.
â€œI didnâ€™t expect to come in and play right away,â€ said Leroux. â€œI know you have to work your way up. Sometimes it takes a couple of months, and sometimes it takes a couple of years. Iâ€™m ready to commit for as long as it takes.â€
Sundhage says that while Lerouxâ€™s role is similar to Morganâ€™s last year, there might also be some tweaks.
â€œLast year we kept Abby [Wambach] on with Alex coming off the bench,â€ said Sundhage. â€œNow 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.â€
And if â€œSyd the Kidâ€ has her way, that wonâ€™t be too much fun for opponents.