It's a strange homecoming for Sydney Leroux.
The 21-year-old striker, who was born in Surrey, B.C., knows family and friends will be cheering for her when she steps on the pitch as a member of the U.S. national team at the CONCACAF Olympic women's qualifying tournament, which opens this week in Vancouver.
Leroux isn't sure how the rest of the crowd might react, especially if the United States plays Canada with a trip to the Olympics in London this year on the line.
"There might be some negative people," Leroux said with a shy smile. "I don't blame them. For me I'm happy and I'm doing something I love."
The tournament will be the first opportunity for Leroux to play soccer in Vancouver as a member of three-time Olympic champion U.S. team.
"The chance to come home is a pretty amazing feeling," she said. "I don't get the chance to play in front of my friends and family very often. Vancouver is my home. It's my hometown and always will be, no matter where I am in the world."
Leroux's mother is Canadian, her father American. Growing up, she played for Canada in the 2004 under-19 Women's World Cup as a 14-year-old. In 2008, Leroux switched her international affiliations. She played in two under-20 World Cups for the United States, scoring 10 goals. Her lone cap with the U.S. senior team came last January against Sweden.
The decision to move south shouldn't be seen as a slap against Canada, Leroux said. "I always knew I was going to spend my life in the States," she said. "I was going to go to college there and eventually start a family there. It wasn't anything against Canada. This is my home. My friends and family are still here. The decision was just what was best for me."
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said Leroux adds speed and scoring to the American roster. "She's unique," Sundhage said. "She has a good attitude on both sides of the ball. She brings something extra to this team."
Leroux played college soccer at UCLA, leading the Bruins in scoring each year. She also dressed for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the W-League, collecting 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games last summer. Last week, the fast-paced forward was taken first overall by the Atlanta Beat in the Women's Professional Soccer league draft.
Leroux was engaged to Langley, B.C., native Brett Lawrie of the Toronto Blue Jays but the relationship has ended.
The United States opens the eight-team qualifying tournament Friday against the Dominican Republic. The two teams meeting in the Jan. 29 championship game advance to the London Olympics.
Leroux has been an unofficial guide since the U.S. team arrived in Vancouver. She took teammates Carli Lloyd and Ali Krieger on a tour of Robson Street, stopping at some of her favourite stores.
She laughed when asked about her family's allegiances if the United States plays Canada in the playoffs. "They will be cheering for me," Leroux said. "I don't think they will be cheering for a country."
Special to The Globe and Mail