The final whistle had blown long ago. The stadium had almost emptied.
But there was one more thing U.S. Women’s National Team striker Sydney Leroux had to do.
She took the jersey she wore during Saturday’s 2-0 friendly win over Ireland at University of Phoenix Stadium and handed it to Les Armstrong, her youth club soccer coach who had helped her achieve her childhood dream of playing for the U.S. national team.
Leroux, a Horizon High graduate who starred at local youth soccer club Sereno, had planned this moment for a long time.
“It’s going to be a really heartwarming feeling to do that for him,” Leroux had said before Saturday’s match, her voice cracking. “He (Armstrong) was a father figure to me. I owe him a lot. It’s going to be great. I’m really excited. It’s going to be a little emotional as well.”
It was a long, hard journey for Leroux, who was born and raised in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She dreamed of playing for the U.S. and because her estranged father is American, she had an avenue to do just that. So at age 15, she moved to Arizona and stayed with host families, away from her mother, Sandi, and all of her friends.
Though she was a youth soccer star in Canada, she had to start all over in the U.S. Armstrong was one of the first people to believe Leroux had the talent to make it to the U.S. national team.
And now, at 22,Leroux is the youngest on the team, helping it win a gold medal at the London Olympics.
Though Leroux didn’t score Saturday in 31 minutes of action, she has already broken the women’s national team record for goals off the bench in a calendar year with 12.
It has been a year of success, achievement and learning for Leroux.
“I think I matured just this one year more than I have than in my entire life; this year has been a big eye-opener for me,” she said. “I understand what I did in college … athleticism doesn’t cut it anymore. I have to practice day in and day out. I have to give 100 percent. When I come in as a sub, it’s so exciting for me. Because I want more. That’s what I’m going for. That’s what I’m working for. I’m never satisfied. My teammates push me in a way that no one else can.”
Fellow U.S. forward Alex Morgan, 23, was where Leroux is now. She impressed off the bench before earning starts alongside Abby Wambach.
Morgan used to form a formidable pair with Leroux. The two led the U.S. U-20 team to the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup title in Chile.Leroux led the tournament with five goals and was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. Morgan scored four goals and earned the Silver Ball.
Since then, Morgan had been wanting to pair with Leroux again.
“She has this love for the game and commitment for this team,” Morgan said. “Even though she’s only getting a certain amount of minutes — which was my situation last year — she takes advantage of it. And that’s really what matters.”