Sydney Leroux’s been called “traitor” and “Judas” — and those are some of the nicer things.
During games, or on social media, or both, some Canadian soccer fans have neither accepted, nor forgiven, the emerging forward for switching allegiances from her country of birth to the United States.
So when the FIFA Women’s World Cup starts for Team USA against Australia on Monday in Winnipeg, Leroux is not expecting any parades or confetti showers.
“I’m just going in with an open mind,” the 25-year-old and three-year U.S. women’s national team veteran said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be negative. I don’t know if it’s going to be positive. It’s probably not going to be positive.”
|Forward Sydney Leroux #2 celebrates after her goal in the second half against Mexico during their international friendly match at StubHub Center on May 17, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Beloved by the latest generation of “pony-tailed hooligans” in the United States for her charismatic style and — most importantly — 35 goals in 71 games, the reception isn’t nearly as warm north of the border.
From Vancouver to Toronto, she has been booed, jeered and taunted. Some have contained racial slurs, she has said.
And not just in games against Canada. The 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament was held in Vancouver, where she was derided in games against Mexico and Guatemala — even when she scored five goals in the match.
To Leroux, the decision to go from playing for Canada to the United States wasn’t a cynical, opportunistic choice. It was a long-planned, childhood desire that was inspired watching Team USA win the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
“I was in Canada, sitting on the couch with my mom and I turned to her and told her that that’s what I wanted to do, that I wanted to play on the best team in the world,” she said. “And I was 9 years old, and ever since I was 9 years old my mom has kind of pushed me, and helped me chase these dreams.”
Leroux was born in Surrey, British Columbia, to Sandi Leroux, a former third baseman of the Canadian women’s national softball team, and Ray Chadwick, an American who pitched briefly for the California Angels in 1986.
Leroux’s parents split while her mother was pregnant with her, and she grew up in Canada. She advanced through the Canadian soccer youth system and, at 14, was selected for the Canadian national team that went to the U-19 Women’s World Championship in 2004 in Thailand, where she was the youngest player in the tournament.
A year later, she moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and stayed with host families in order to fulfill her childhood aspiration.
By 2008, she changed her citizenship (at least in FIFA’s eyes) to the United States and helped Team USA win the U-20 Women’s World Cup. She played for Team USA again two years later in the U-20 Women’s World Cup and finished as the United States’ most experienced player at the U-20 level with 39 games, tied with Lindsey Horan and Kelley O’Hara for the most goals (24). O’Hara joins Leroux on the 2015 World Cup team.
In 3½ years, Leroux has become a Team USA regular, appearing in an average of 20 games (15 starts last year), including four matches at the 2012 Olympic Games. And with fellow forward Alex Morgan having missed Team USA’s final three Women’s World Cup preparation games with a bruised left knee, Leroux is likely to start Monday’s match against Australia and see significant minutes throughout the tournament.
It will give her detractors plenty of opportunities to heckle.
Certainly not low profile, Leroux has become a soccer celebrity, adding to her status with her marriage earlier this year to Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer.
She is quick to note that her critics are a handful in a nation of millions, that there isn’t a two-way grudge against the Canadian women’s team and that Canadian defender Carmelina Moscato was a bridesmaid at her wedding.
However, Leroux is not shy, and she has been known to taunt back, such as two years ago when she scored in second-half stoppage time in a 3-0 win over Canada in Toronto and celebrated by pushing out the U.S. crest on jersey to the crowd. And then there are her tweets.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Are you going to go on a (Twitter) hiatus? Stay away from social media?’” she said. “I’m not going to stop being who I am, because some people don’t like that.
“I’m going to be Sydney Leroux, and if people don’t like that, that’s OK.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.