By Grant Wahl
January 31, 2014

Sydney Leroux Canadian-born U.S. women's star Sydney Leroux, right, sparked quite the fan reaction after scoring against Canada last June in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

FRISCO, Tex. — The last time U.S. forward Sydney Leroux played against her birth nation, Canada, her late goal in a U.S. victory sparked a provocative goal celebration in Toronto and her revelation that some Canadian fans had sent her racist and sexist slurs on social media in the days before the game.

But Leroux is hoping things will be business as usual when the U.S. meets Canada again in what has become a fierce rivalry on Friday (Fox Sports 1, 9 p.m. ET).

“That was a hard couple days for me, because not everyone knew the story and I kind of came out like the villain, which was not the situation,” Leroux said on Thursday of her goal celebration last June, in which she raised the U.S. crest on her jersey to the Canadian crowd and put a finger to her mouth to shush the fans.

On the day after that game, Leroux tweeted: “When you chant racial slurs, taunt me and talk about my family don’t be mad when I shush you and show pride in what I represent. #america.”

Leroux, the child of an American father and Canadian mother, was born in Surrey, B.C., and played for Canada at the Under-19 World Cup in 2004. But she moved to the U.S. in 2005 and (in line with FIFA rules) switched her soccer allegiance to the U.S. in 2008. Now 23, she’s emerging as a breakout star who scored a career-high 10 international goals in 2013.

Leroux is expected to start next to Abby Wambach up top on Friday night — fellow front-liner Alex Morgan is out with an injury — and she said the racist social media messages ceased once the story came out last year.

“The goal celebration happened, I said what I had to say on Twitter and then it blew up,” Leroux said. “Then everything started coming out on what happened and what was said to me on social media. And everything stopped. I haven’t gotten anything since. It’s been awesome. I was home in Vancouver before I was here, and I had little girls come up to me and ask for my picture.”

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Leroux said U.S. Soccer officials have asked her to keep her celebration toned down if she scores on Friday, but she joked that it was essentially impossible for her to tone anything down, especially when she scores.

“People ask me if I would have done things differently [last June], but I’m happy with everything I did,” Leroux said. “I’m so proud to put on this [U.S.] jersey. I made a decision a long time ago … when I was 14 years old. That’s the situation I don’t really understand, because no one [in Canada] really cared when I was younger, but now people are making a big deal of it.”

Next year’s Women’s World Cup is in Canada, so Leroux knows her cross-border story won’t disappear. But while she said she expects the typically hard physical battle on Friday against the Canadians, Leroux added there’s a lot of goodwill, too.

“It’s funny,” she said. “[The U.S.’s] Ali Krieger and [Canada’s] Carmelina Moscato went to school together and are actually best friends. I think fans try to make it like you hate each other, but we’re really good friends with some of them.”

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