The strange saga of Ms. Leroux
© Foto-net

Though only a substitute in the United States' opening match against France on 19 November in Chillan, Sydney Rae Leroux's appearance after the interval could barely have been more decisive. The young forward grabbed two goals and an assist against the shell-shocked French to ensure the Americans kicked off their FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008 campaign with a 3-0 win.

A closer look at the gifted 18-year-old's background reveals a curious tale. Leroux was born in Surrey, in the Canadian state of British Colombia, to parents Ray and Sandi. Sporting success is clearly in her blood - Ray was a professional baseball player while Sandi excelled at softball - though Sydney has preferred to let her feet rather than her hands do the talking. At the age of just 14 she was the youngest member of the Canada squad that took part in the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Thailand 2004, and made substitute appearances against the host nation and Australia. However, at the age of 16, Leroux switched her footballing allegiances from the land of the Maple Leaf to that of the Stars and Stripes.

Her return to the global stage here in Chile could not have gone better, Leroux's measured cross enabling Alex Morgan to open the scoring against France before she helped herself to a brace. "It was a good day. We worked really hard and everything came off well for us," said the heroine of the hour after the final whistle. " And on top of that I managed to score! So everything went great."

Illustrating perfectly the versatility that USA coach Tony DiCicco demands from his attacking players, the UCLA forward created Morgan's goal after a bursting run through the inside-right channel. "I feel comfortable in any position," says Leroux, whose own strikes came first from a well-timed dash into the box and then a brave headed effort.

"In fact, I started out playing in more defensive positions but with time my coaches moved me further forward. So I know how to defend but I also enjoy the mobility we've got in this team. It gives us so much freedom."

Even after her show-stealing display against the French, the humble front-runner assured she will not be demanding a starting place against Argentina on Saturday 22 November. "No, I won't be asking the coach to put me in from the start, it's his decision," says the amiable striker. "I'm just happy to be part of the team, it doesn't matter if I'm in the starting eleven or not."

Ronaldo fan
A keen admirer of the skills of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as French star Thierry Henry, Leroux is determined to enjoy her Chile 2008 experience to the full. "It's a dream come true. We're finally here and it's great."

Despite their emphatic opening-game win, the favourites' tag some observers have pinned on the USA does not sit well with the fleet-footed attacker. "I think that every team has a chance. But we've worked very hard and, if all goes the way we've planned, then yes we will be in with a shout of winning."

Next up are the Albiceleste in Chillan, a match which Leroux hopes will be another step towards a US triumph here on Chilean soil: "Let's hope we can all pull together to fulfil our ultimate objective," concludes the feisty goal-getter. And if she takes up where she left off against France, few would back against the United States doing just that.