Team draws sup­port­ive crowd for Nige­ria game

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

VAN­COU­VER, Canada — The Stars and Stripes were ev­ery­where Tues­day at BC Place, hang­ing from rail­ings and over shoul­ders, worn on hats, pants, Tshirts and painted on faces. There was even a ver­sion of the flag made en­tirely out of bal­loons.

“We’re play­ing home games in Canada,” Abby Wam­bach said.

The over­whelm­ingly proU.S. crowd of 52,193 was less than 2,000 short of the sta­dium’s listed ca­pac­ity, mark­ing the first of three games in the World Cup that the Amer­i­cans haven’t sold out. But it was the fourth-largest to at­tend a U.S. women’s team game out­side the U.S., and it nearly matched what Canada drew in the tour­na­ment opener in Ed­mon­ton.

And the home team played its next two games in front of more than 32,000 empty seats com­bined.

“The crowd was amaz­ing. I think that had a big part to do with our energy,” Coach Jill El­lis said, re­peat­ing a com­ment she has made through­out the tour­na­ment.

Tues­day’s got a boost from a Cana­dian. U.S. for­ward Syd­ney Ler­oux, who was born and raised just out­side Van­cou­ver, said that about 50 fam­ily mem­bers and friends were ex­pected to at­tend the game, Ler­oux’s first at home in a U.S. uni­form since the 2012 Olympic qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment.

Ler­oux’s friends and fam­ily had to wait a while to see her play, though, since Alex Mor­gan got her first start of the World Cup, rel­e­gat­ing Ler­oux to the bench. She went on in the 66th minute and played en­er­get­i­cally.

“I love Van­cou­ver more than any city in the world,” said Ler­oux, 25, who left Canada at 15, shortly af­ter play­ing for her home­land in the U-19 World Cup. “Peo­ple have come up to me while walk­ing the streets of Van­cou­ver … even Cana­dian fans are like ‘ Con­grat­u­la­tions. We’re proud of you. We’re root­ing for you.’

“It’s been re­ally cool.” Lessons learned

Wun­derkind Asisat Oshoala, who had Nige­ria’s best scor­ing chance mid­way through the first half, said she was inspired to play soc­cer in part by watch­ing U.S. play­ers such as Wam­bach and Hope Solo play on TV.

Said Oshoala: “I’m al­ways like, ‘Mommy I want to be like this per­son,’ so play­ing against them, I think it’s very good for me.”

Oshoala said her mother called this week to re­mind her of her child­hood dreams and to chal­lenge her to show the U.S. play­ers what they taught her. And she al­most got to meet Solo in the 24th minute when she got be­hind the U.S. de­fense, leav­ing only the keeper to beat. But as Oshoala lined up her shot, U.S. de­fender Julie John­ston slid it from be­hind and tapped the ball away.

“I al­ways talked about them and my mother said to me, ‘Now you want to play against them. You need to prove your­self and tell us, lit­er­ally your par­ents, that you can be like them in the near­est fu­ture,’ ” Oshoala said. Shake it off

El­lis was waved off when she ap­proached Nige­rian Coach Ed­win Okon for a hand­shake af­ter the game.

“I typ­i­cally al­ways go and shake the coach’s hand. The bench per­son­nel shook my hand and the coach said, ‘I’m not go­ing to shake your hand,’ ” El­lis said. “He kind of put his hand out a lit­tle bit. But that’s his call, not mine.”

Andy Clark AFP/Getty Im­ages

SYD­NEY LER­OUX of the U.S. plays in front of fam­ily and friends.

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