So how about that sudden trade from the Seattle Reign to the Western New York Flash in the middle of preparing for the 2015 Women’s World Cup?
Sydney Leroux, a dynamic scoring threat for any team she plays for, took a minute to weigh her response. She really had to think about how to approach the sudden 180-degree change in her life, which came just a month after another big change: On February 14, Leroux privately and quietly married MLS’s Sporting Kansas City star Dom Dwyer, then posted a telltale picture of the event on Instagram.
Like any of the top players trying to make sure elite women’s soccer keeps growing in the United States, there’s very little room for criticism or negativity. However, for Leroux, the world of professional soccer stardom has proved it’s not always as bright and cheery as Instagram posts and Twitter zingers, even for the camera-friendly star of social media.
“I don’t think it was the best timing for the trade, going into the World Cup,” Leroux said in St. Louis, where the U.S. drubbed New Zealand in front of 35,817 people — a record standalone crowd for women’s soccer match in the U.S.
But the big crowds and growing buzz about the 2015 World Cup seemed a little less lustrous to Leroux this week. It was apparent that the deal upset her, though she claimed the party line about wanting to do her part to grow the NWSL, the third attempt at establishing a professional women’s soccer league in the U.S.
“I don’t even have clothes packed,” she said, looking ahead to the fact that from St. Louis, Leroux was expected to fly to Rochester, N.Y. where the Flash open at home Saturday against Seattle in what will be the third season for the NWSL.
Leroux scored five goals in 22 games for the Reign in 2014 after joining from the Boston Breakers, where she had 11 goals in 2013. Leroux has not had as much playing time this spring in friendlies or Algarve Cup matches, but she figures to be a part of the U.S. attack during the World Cup.
If anything, Leroux, 24, had been hoping for a trade to Kansas City, where she and Dwyer have a home and try and spend time when he’s home with Sporting KC. Instead of being sent “home,” Leroux was sent across the country. Such is the life of being a professional athlete, but for Leroux, who is an only child of a single mom, there’s a strong need to try and stay close to her mother or new husband.
What makes the surprise trade of Leroux by Reign general manager Laura Harvey potentially more fraught was that it was triggered by Abby Wambach’s abrupt decision to not play for Western New York. The 34-year-old and upstate New York native announced March 18 that in order to prepare for the World Cup, which starts June 8 for the U.S. women against Australia in Winnipeg, Canada, Wambach’s body and mind could not take the travel and wear and tear of league play.
Likewise, Wambach had been vocal about wanting to be closer to her home in Portland, OR., to be able to spend more time with her wife, former teammate Sarah Huffman. Just like Leroux had hoped that NWSL and U.S. Soccer might place her in Kansas City, Wambach had hoped in 2013 to be allocated to the Portland Thorns.
Wambach’s decision last month put the Flash in a bind since it came after the NWSL draft, and it prompted general manager Aaran Lines to blast Wambach and U.S. Soccer, which pays the salaries of the U.S. women’s national team players.
“What I don’t really understand is how can a player make that decision to not play at club level, and still be able to play for her country? If you don’t play for club in the men’s game, you don’t get the opportunity to play for country, do you? We need to head in that direction of the men’s game,” Lines said.
The relationship between U.S. Soccer and the NWSL is critical to any chance of success for the fledgling pro soccer league, which is why Lines took Wambach and U.S. Soccer to task for allowing Wambach to opt out of her obligations to the Flash. His point was that U.S. Soccer can’t have it both ways, although Wambach’s power and stature seems to have swayed soccer officials from enforcing the structure they’ve put in place.
Wambach was given wiggle room and the next thing everyone knows, the Flash worked out a trade that sent Wambach to Seattle, never consulting Leroux before making the announcement.
“It’s no one’s fault,” Leroux said, laughing off any suggestion that she would place the blame for her sudden change of venue on Wambach.
“She’s my friend, she’s my teammate,” Leroux said.
Even if Wambach does not play any of this season for Seattle — even after the World Cup — the Reign were clearly eager to ship Leroux to the Flash.
“Abby is a fantastic player who has proven over the years she is one of the best forwards in the world,” said Harvey, who was the NWSL coach of the year in 2014.
“We understand and support her decision to focus on the World Cup this season. The contribution she is capable of making is obvious, so we will welcome her to our club at whatever point she is ready to rejoin the league,” Harvey said.
It’s nice that U.S. Soccer and the NWSL have obliged the wishes of one of their most marketable and longstanding stars. It’s also nice that Leroux was totally unwilling to throw Wambach under the bus.
But this bit of business puts a logistical wrinkle in Leroux’s life in these critical weeks before the World Cup. It also shines a little light on the dynamics between U.S. Soccer and the NWSL — a league that relies on subsidized players showing up ready to help sell women’s professional soccer. The plan is admirable even if the mechanics aren’t so nice.
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