On familiar turf

U.S. for­ward Ler­oux ex­pects an emo­tional time play­ing Tues­day in home­town of Van­cou­ver, Canada

Los Angeles Times - - WOMEN’S WORLD CUP - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com

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 31⁄ 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.

Aformer 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 aboutit, so I won’t talk­a­bout 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 pitchin 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 notso-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 to­her 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 brin­git-on per­son­al­ity.”

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

“It­makes 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. leads its group stand­ings go­ing into the game with Nige­ria, 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 youwant.”

Jewel Sa­mad Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

SYD­NEY LER­OUX, a na­tive of Canada and a for­ward on the U.S. women’s soc­cer team, says, “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.”

An­gels Base­ball

FOR­MER AN­GELS pitcher Ray Chad­wick and daugh­ter Syd­ney Ler­oux are es­tranged.

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