From the vault: Aug. 3, 2012
At the London Olympics, the United States faced a pesky quarterfinal opponent, New Zealand.
Abby Wambach scored in the 27th minute to give her side a 1-0 lead, but New Zealand hung in (and the Americans, particularly Alex Morgan, flubbed their share of scoring chances). For 60 minutes after Wambach’s goal, the Ferns remained one lucky shot away from equalizing.
Until Sydney Leroux, Team USA’s super-sub, put the game on ice.
Leroux had come on for Morgan in the 80th minute. Seven minutes later, she collected a long pass from Tobin Heath on the left wing, fought her way past the last New Zealand defender, and sent a low, crisp shot into the net — nutmegging goalkeeper Jenny Bindon.
The Americans advanced to the semifinals. They would go on to win the gold medal.
At 22, Leroux was the youngest member of the U.S. team. The dramatic goal was her first in three appearances at the London Games, all off the bench.
She was happy, and it showed.
Here’s how U.S. Soccer’s game story described her reaction:
Leroux soaked in the thrill of the moment with a memorable celebration, and the look on her face was equal parts excitement and disbelief as her teammates embraced her.
Most of us just called it The Sydney Leroux Goal Face.
“Obviously, it was, like, the most joy I’ve ever felt in my entire life. … Pure happiness.” she said months later.
She added (see the interview below) that when fans take pictures with her, they often ask her to make The Goal Face. And she can’t.
“It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she said. “I mean, it was just so in-the-moment.”
As it turned out, 2012 was a stellar year for Leroux — and one she has yet to replicate. She scored 14 goals, all off the bench, shattering the U.S. record for goals in a year by a substitute. (The old mark was nine goals by Debbie Keller in 1998.)
Since then, her goal production has gone down every year — even though she has been an occasional starter, and her minutes have increased (until this year, when injuries have limited her).
She was barely a factor in the World Cup, played in her birthland of Canada, with which she has a complicated relationship. (It’s a safe bet that she hoped to excel in the tournament and leave an impression on Canadian fans.) She played in four games and had one assist. She attempted three shots. None was on frame.
(In these charts, the “projected” numbers for 2015 are rough guesses, nothing more. I assumed, for instance, the 10 games planned as the team’s Victory Tour will be its only remaining matches this year. That may or may not be the case. Also, I made no attempt to guess how many of those games Leroux will play in. She just had ankle surgery, will be out for three months, and won’t play at all in the National Women’s Soccer League. She’s expected to miss some of the Victory Tour. But in extending the 2015 stats through the remainder of the year, for simplicity I assumed that she would take part in all 10 games.)
In any case, I sincerely hope that Leroux, a rare talent, regains the form that made America fall in love with her in 2012. If injuries are what’s caused her dropoff, I hope she fully recovers. If it’s something else, I hope she figures it out.
She’s still young, 25. She can still have a long and stellar career. One of these years, Wambach is going to have to retire, and that will create new opportunities for the other U.S. strikers. (Christen Press, picked by many as the American most likely to have a breakout performance in the World Cup and emerge as the Game’s Next Star, wasn’t much more impressive than Leroux: One goal and no assists in four games. That Next Star mantle, clearly, went to defender Julie Johnston.)
My wish for Leroux in 2016 is that we see much less of this:
and more of this: