U.S. forward Sydney Leroux expects emotional World Cup game in hometown

U.S. forward Sydney Leroux anticipates emotional time playing in hometown of Vancouver, Canada

Ray Chadwick hasn't spoken to his daughter for a year. Her choice, he says, not his.

But this week he plans to make the 3 1/2-hour drive from his home in south-central British Columbia to Vancouver to be near her just the same. So when forward Sydney Leroux takes the soccer field for the United States on Tuesday in the final game of group play in the women's World Cup, she may not know her father is there, but his voice will among those cheering her the loudest.

"Of course I wouldn't miss it," he said.

A former pitcher with the Angels, Chadwick was absent through much of Leroux's childhood, so the two were never close. But they were never as distant as they have been over the last year.

"I don't talk to him," Leroux said coldly. She didn't say why, nor will Chadwick.

"She doesn't want to talk about it, so I won't talk about it," he said. "I'm not going to put it out there in the media."

Yet, Leroux, 25, wouldn't be playing for the U.S. national team if not for her father, and not just because of the obvious physical gifts he gave her. Leroux's mother, Sandi, also deserves credit for that since she, too, was a talented athlete, good enough to play third base for Canada's national softball team.

She was also the more supportive parent, working odd hours so she could attend her daughter's baseball — Sydney, who once dreamed of being the first female major league player, played in boys' leagues from the age of 5 — and soccer games.

But Chadwick gave his daughter something her mother couldn't — dual nationality, making her eligible to play for the U.S. national team.

Chadwick, who grew up in North Carolina, was pitching for a minor league team in Vancouver when he met Sandi at a Canadian Football League game. The two dated for a while, but shortly after Leroux discovered she was pregnant, Chadwick went off to pitch in winter ball. By the time Sydney was born in suburban Vancouver the next spring, her parents had separated.

As a result, Leroux grew up Canadian, even playing for that country in the U-19 World Cup at 14, making her the youngest player in the tournament. Her dream, however, was to play for the U.S., a team she had been enamored with since watching it win the 1999 World Cup in front of 90,000 in the Rose Bowl.

So she told her mother she would play in the U.S. or not play at all.

"I believe in myself. And I wanted to put myself in a position where I could become better and I could play on the best team in the world, which I still think is the United States," she said.

At 15, Leroux left home for the U.S., living first with a host family in Seattle, where things didn't work out, and then with six others in Arizona, where she excelled in soccer.

By the time she entered college, Leroux, then 18, was being invited to play for a U.S. age-group team. But first she would need permission from FIFA to switch allegiances and once she received it, there would be no going back.

Leroux didn't think twice, pulling on the U.S. jersey, then scoring a tournament-high five goals to lead the team to the U-20 World Cup title.

"I don't regret anything," she said. "My life would be completely different. So I haven't really thought of that. I'm just very happy to be where I am today. Because it has been a journey."

At UCLA, she tied the school's season record with 23 goals as a sophomore. And by her senior year, she was playing for the senior national team, which didn't go over so well back home when she returned for a not-so-friendly friendly in Toronto.

After being booed by the sellout crowd when she came off the bench, Leroux scored in stoppage time to close out a 3-0 win. She celebrated by flashing the U.S. crest on her blue-and-white jersey to the crowd, then lifting an index finger to her lips to shush the spectators.

"Syd revels in having something to prove. That's when you get your very best from Syd," said U.S. Coach Jill Ellis, who also recruited Leroux to UCLA. "Her personality, it's a kind of bring-it-on personality."

The demonstration earned her a yellow card but it also showed that if the U.S.-Canada rivalry needed a villain, Leroux would be happy to accept the role.

"It makes it fun, it makes it exciting," she said.

Tuesday's game will mark Leroux's second trip home to Vancouver with the U.S. national team, but this visit is all business. Although the U.S. goes into the game with Nigeria leading the group, Leroux is one of a number of U.S. players who haven't played well in the tournament.

They'll all need to get better if Leroux hopes to make it back to her hometown for the World Cup final in three weeks.

"It's different for me because I'm going to be putting on a U.S. jersey in my home country," said Leroux, who has 35 goals in 73 games for the U.S. "That's going to be emotional. It's a crazy story for me to come home, for me to play in front of my family, my friends in an American jersey.

"There's nothing like it."

Up in the stands, Chadwick promises he'll be watching, and smiling, regardless of how the game ends.

"I watch from afar and I know that she's successful and happy," Chadwick said. "And as a father, that's all you want."

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