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VANCOUVER, B.C. —It was a homecoming to remember for 21-year-old Sydney Leroux Sunday. Leroux, who was born and raised in nearby Surrey, B.C., came on for Lauren Cheney at halftime of the American women's 13-0 win over Guatemala and made an instant impact, scoring a hat trick in her first 12 minutes of play in this tournament. Leroux wasn't done there, as she added two more before the end of the game to tie teammate Amy Rodriguez's recently-set CONCACAF Olympic qualifying finals record for goals in a single match. Her homecoming wasn't universally well-received, though, as she was booed by portions of the crowd when she was introduced, and there were later chants of "Judas" after her goals.
Leroux said despite the negative reception from some quarters, playing a game near her former home was incredibly special to her.
"It's so important to play in front of my mom, my family, my friends," she said.
Many Canadian fans certainly bear some resentment towards her for choosing to play for the U.S. instead of Canada, but Leroux said she doesn't mind their criticism.
[ Related: US into semifinals with 13-0 rout of Guatemala ]
"I know that some people don't respect my decision and some people do," she said. "Not everyone's going to like you, and I feel like you have to have some enemies. If you don't, you're not doing something right."
Leroux started her international career with two appearances for Canada at the 2004 U-20 World Cup when she was just 14 and appeared for the Vancouver Whitecaps at age 15, but then moved to the U.S. soon after and got started in their program at age 16. Leroux's father is former California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) pitcher Ray Chadwick, and she's long held dual citizenship. She's also already made an impressive impact at several levels in the U.S., scoring 30 goals in 36 appearances for the U-20 side and being selected by the Atlanta Beat Jan. 13 as the top pick in the Women's Professional Soccer draft. If this game's any indication, she could also become a player to remember at the senior level for the U.S. She said regardless of how it turns out, she's pleased with the decision she's made.
"I'm happy where I am and I'm happy to wear this jersey," she said.
Leroux's goals were mostly picturesque, and their varying natures were indicative of the wide range of talent she has. Her first came in the 48th minute, when she took a pass from Alex Morgan, ran left to right across the Guatemalan penalty area through a horde of defenders and finished with a superlative strike back across her body into the top left corner. The second came only minutes later off an Amy Rodriguez cross, which Leroux headed home easily from short range. The third showed yet another side of her talents, as Morgan raced down the right flank and played in a low cross that appeared too far for Leroux, but she slid and knocked it in with a great effort. The fourth goal looked right out of legendary teammate Abby Wambach's playbook, as Kelley O'Hara delivered a high cross from the flank and Leroux finished with a picturesque header that landed just inside the post. The fifth was less remarkable, with Leroux tapping in a Rodriguez cross, but she was still in the right place at the right time.
Leroux said afterwards her success was thanks to much more than just herself, though.
"I owe a lot to my teammates," she said. "They gave me some great balls."
Wambach, who scored a pair of goals herself in the first half Sunday to improve her all-time total to 129, said Leroux has the makings of a great striker.
"I think she's a special player," Wambach said. "Before she went on, I told her 'Start scoring goals for this country.' Those are the first five of many to come."
Wambach said she's happy Leroux decided to play for the U.S. team.
"She made her decision long ago, and based on today, I think it's the right one,"
[ Related: Injured Krieger not giving up hope for Olympics ]
Head coach Pia Sundhage said she was thrilled with Leroux's play Sunday, which helped the U.S. clinch a semifinal berth.
"This is a unique situation, I think it's astonishing," Sundhage said. "Coming off the bench and scoring five goals like Amy Rodriguez did the other day, I'm so proud and happy to be around this team. It's never happened before; so many goals, so many great goals. I'm happy for the team and for Syd today. It's quality, for sure."
It's easy to understand why Canadian fans are displeased with Leroux's decision, but it's worth pointing out that they've benefited from cross-border players as well. The most crucial one is Lauren Sesselmann, an American from Green Bay, Wisconsin who was Canada's starting left back in this tournament until she was hurt in the team's opening match. (Funnily enough, Sesselmann plays her club soccer for the Beat as well, so she may soon be a teammate of Leroux's.) Cross-border players aren't all that uncommon at this level, and the practice isn't likely to end any time soon. Leroux's homecoming may not have been well-received by all the fans in attendance, but it's one that she, her teammates and her coach were thrilled with. For the U.S., that's more than enough.
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