New Angel City forward Sydney Leroux says Kobe Bryant taught her to 'never soften'
In many ways, Sydney Leroux is coming home.
Leroux, who was acquired by Angel City FC on Wednesday, grew up in Canada and has played for the Orlando Pride since 2018. Her Pride teammates were there to support her during a miscarriage, the birth of her daughter, her push to return to top form during a pandemic, the end of her marriage and her new life as a single mother of two. She shared the entire journey with 3.1 million followers across her Twitter and Instagram accounts.
But she has maintained deep ties to the Los Angeles area.
The UCLA alum cemented her status as a fast and physical goal scorer in college. Leroux fought for a featured spot on the ultracompetitive U.S. women's national team, helping the squad win a gold medal at the London Olympics and the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Her decision to play for the U.S. rather than Canada made her the target of attacks and racial slurs in 2013, which she called out on social media. Around the same time, she met Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and quickly forged a deep bond with his family.
Bryant, an avid soccer fan, and his daughters loved to watch Leroux play. The group met, with Leroux becoming a mentor for Gianna "Gigi" Bryant and Kobe Bryant a mentor for Leroux. Gigi Bryant wore the No. 2 jersey in honor of Leroux. He cheered Leroux on after she returned to NWSL play following the birth of her son, Cassius.
Good to see you out there again @sydneyleroux #backatit https://t.co/uklReEFERc
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 17, 2017
After Gigi and Kobe were killed in a 2020 helicopter crash, Leroux sent Vanessa Bryant a painting depicting the father and daughter in their jerseys with angel wings.
"For those that don’t know- Gigi wore #2 as a soccer player since it’s @sydneyleroux’s number and Gigi kept her number as a baller," Vanessa Bryant wrote on Instagram. "Syd has a #2 tattoo in Gigi’s Jersey font to honor my baby). Love you always @sydneyleroux."
Leroux posted a message in honor of Gigi and Kobe on Instagram after the crash, writing:
"Gigi you were a star. Your dad told me that you were going to be better than he was. You had the gift no matter what you were playing. I know you’ll be looking down on your mom and your sisters with your big smile while shooting hoops with your dad, doing what you both love. 2 will always be ours.
“Kobe — thank you for allowing me in to your beautiful family. Thank you for believing in me. Being there for me during the good times and the tough ones. For your crazy book recommendations and your quotes. For helping me write. For teaching me to never soften for anybody. For teaching me about the darkness and the light and the villains becoming the heroes.”
Now Leroux, Cassius and her daughter Roux will join the Bryant family in Los Angeles, where she continues her push to thrive at the professional level after falling out of the U.S. women's national team rotation.
Angel City needed a consistent scoring threat to help offset the loss of forward Christen Press, who recently suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
Orlando will receive Angel City's natural first-round pick in 2024, $75,000 in allocation money and an additional $10,000 in allocation money in 2022, and $10,000 in 2023 if Leroux meets performance-based criteria.
Leroux was the Pride's leading goal scorer in 2018 and 2021, pushing to resume elite play after the birth of her children. She has scored 14 goals across 46 appearances with the Pride since 2018. Leroux, 32, took much of 2019 off while pregnant with her daughter.
“We are delighted to welcome Sydney Leroux to Angel City,” Angel City sporting director Eniola Aluko said in a release. “Sydney has valuable experience as an NWSL player that will be a great asset to the team. Sydney’s goal-scoring ability, her tenacity and her passion on the field will be exciting for our fans to watch."
Leroux was a member of the U.S. women's national team from 2011 to 2017, scoring 35 international goals.
Her professional soccer career has included stops in Vancouver, Seattle, Boston, Western New York and Kansas City before she landed in Orlando. She has scored 54 goals at the club level, but wins have been hard to come by as she played for underresourced or rebuilding teams. She lauded the Pride for supporting her as she spoke out on social justice issues, opposing LGBTQ restrictions in Florida and calling for more support of women, mothers and Black athletes. The Pride never made the playoffs during tenure.
Leroux already has notched one goal in front of Angel City fans.
She delivered the only score during a 1-0 Pride win over Angel City on May 8 in front of an announced crowd of 17,510 at Banc of California Stadium.
“I am so excited to be a part of Angel City and everything being built with this club,” Leroux said. “The atmosphere I felt playing at the Banc on Mother's Day was unbelievable. It really feels like I'm coming home, between going to UCLA and living in L.A."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.