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Olympic hopeful Sydney Leroux left home to play for U.S.

(AP) -- Eight time zones away with no television coverage, Sandi Leroux stared at her computer and followed her daughter's soccer match.

"I'm sitting right in front of MatchTracker. She just came on," she said in a phone interview from suburban Vancouver, British Columbia, reading the scroll of play-by-play on the U.S. Soccer website.

Sydney Leroux, the Canadian-born player who has become the latest scoring sensation for the U.S. women's soccer team preparing for the Olympics, had entered as a second-half substitute in the Americans' game against Denmark last week at the Algarve Cup in Lagos, Portugal. She got off a couple of shots - then took one that made her mother's computer go "ding!"

"Oh! Goal by Sydney Leroux. Assist by Stephanie Cox. Wooooo! Ninety-plus-one minute. Ah, thank goodness, I wasn't sitting here for nothing," Sandi said with a laugh.

Then the tracker added a description of the goal, an exclamation point to a 5-0 victory: "Steph Cox drilled a ball through the penalty area and Leroux stayed onside ... She burst behind and slid at the far post to finish from right on the goal line!"

"So it must have been a good one," Sandi said. "She will call me as soon as they get her on the phone."

The mother-watching-daughter dynamic was quite different from the scene two months ago, when Sandi was there to see Sydney score a record-tying five goals for the U.S. in an Olympic qualifying win in Vancouver - just a short distance from the Leroux home in Surrey.

At 21, she's the youngest player on the team - and appears a shoo-in to make the squad that'll head to the London Games.

The phone call from Portugal was far different from the ones Sandi got from a homesick teenager who had moved to the U.S. to pursue the goal of playing for the Americans.

"I definitely owe a lot to her," Sydney said, "because there was many times I would call home and I would be crying and I would tell her that I wanted to come home and I didn't want to do this anymore. And she just said, 'Trust me, one day it'll all be worth it.' And, as of right now, I can tell you that it was."

Said Sandi: "You know what? I didn't handle it well, either. Truthfully, I was really (heart) sick and I didn't tell her. So, yeah, it was hard on both of us."

Sydney says from age 6 she wanted to wear the U.S. uniform. Nothing against Canada - she just wanted to be on the best team in the world. She was playing for Canada's Under-19 national team when she was only 14. But she was eligible to switch countries because her father is Ray Chadwick, an American who pitched a few games for the California Angels in 1986.

That meant moving to Washington state and then Phoenix to live with American families immersed in the soccer culture and earning a college scholarship. The soccer was fine; bouncing back-and-forth trying to find the right school and living arrangements was, in Sydney's words, "a mess."

"And that was where it got hard," Sydney said. "The only thing that I really did for, like, a year was sleep and play soccer."

Sydney eventually found a family that made her feel at home, and went on to become a goal-scoring machine at UCLA. She made her debut with the U.S. team last year, but it was her second appearance - in front of her mother at Vancouver's BC Place - that made her look like a must-have for the Olympic team.

Playing only the second half, the forward scored five goals in a 13-0 win over Guatemala, equaling the U.S. women's record for goals in a game.

The soundtrack to that accomplishment? In addition to the cheers from family, friends and the U.S. fans, there was a rambunctious group of Canadians who kept chanting "Juuuu-das" whenever she touched the ball.

"I have to take it like almost a compliment," Sydney said. "You have to. Obviously, they're mad about something. You can say that I'm a traitor and you can say that I grew up and I was developed through the Canadian system, but when I was 14 I wasn't scoring goals like I've been scoring in college or with the (American) U-20s. I developed myself. I worked on my weaknesses and made them my strengths. You can boo all you want, but at the same time it's like you really can't take away the smile I have on my face once our team wins."

"I've given up a lot to be in this position," she said. "And I don't think a lot of people realize that I left here when I was 14 years old - no family, no friends, no nothing - and I made the decision that I was going to do this, this was my dream, that I was going to fulfill that dream. And if people disrespect that, at least respect the fact that I went after something that I love to do."

Her mother, of course, heard the chants and was proud that her daughter was unfazed.

"It didn't seem to bother her," Sandi said. "She handles things better than I would."

In addition to the goal against Denmark in Portugal, Sydney scored again two days later in the 2-1 win over Norway. The U.S. team then lost 1-0 to Japan and beat Sweden 4-0 on Wednesday in the third-place match.

She appeared as a second-half substitute in all four matches, a late-game burst of energy on a roster that already includes the imposing goal-scoring tandem of Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. Wambach (3), Morgan (5) and Leroux (2) combined to score 10 of the team's 11 goals in the tournament.

Sydney's mother kept track of it all, temporarily working the night shift at her job as a grocery store cashier so she could follow the matches in the morning in the Pacific time zone.

Sydney is the only U.S. player to appear in a game this year who wasn't part of last year's World Cup squad. She is already lobbying her mother to make the trip to the London Olympics in July, which means Sandi would have to find someone to look after the Chihuahuas.

When the phone call came after the Denmark game, Sydney was anxious to hear her mother's review - even though Sandi didn't really get to see the game at all.

"I said, 'Keep doing what you're doing,"' Sandi said. "She wants to make this team so badly."

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