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Sydney Leroux Steals the Spotlight in Neon Nashville

On a night when Abby Wambach earned her 200th cap, it was the young attackers who shined for the United States women's national team. The future looks bright indeed.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
February 14, 2013
6:00 PM
NASHVILLE, TN—Nashville is bright. Neon pinks, yellows, greens, and blues interrupt the black night sky, stretching down the city’s famously honky-tonk streets, with smoky saloons and twangy music saturating blocks on blocks on blocks of Midwestern real estate. You smell the smoke, you hear the music. But it’s those bright lights that really get you.

Just across the Cumberland river at LP Field, the U.S. women’s national team set a precedent for a future that is just as bright. The USWNT defeated Scotland 3-1 last night in the second leg of Tom Sermanni’s United States head coaching debut.

The attention was on Abby Wambach with the striker making her 200th appearance for the national team. She turned in a typical (read: dominant) performance, notching her 153rd career goal, putting her just five shy of Mia Hamm’s record. The goal was vintage Wambach. She laid out for a well-placed Sydney Leroux cross, connected with a thud, then tumbled into the net, her aggressiveness, reckless abandon, pinpoint accuracy, and professional finishing bundled into one swift, calculated, and bumbling movement.

In addition to Wambach’s performance, the U.S. attacking core rolled on all cylinders, thanks to the outstanding play of some young forwards. No, not Alex Morgan. In fact, an injured Morgan was an afterthought in this game, where Sydney Leroux made her first career start for the USWNT. Yes, re-read that statement. Leroux, who scored a decisive goal at the 2012 Olympic Games, who has 15 career goals, had never started before Wednesday night. She didn’t play like a first-time starter, creating several opportunities for herself and her teammates, including an assist on Wambach’s header.

“It was pretty appropriate in my opinion,” Wambach said after the game. “Sydney Leroux was my roommate on this trip and I’ve watched her grow up on this team so I thought it was really fitting for her to give me that assist.”

And just when you think that the U.S. has had its fill of attacking options, another one emerges in the form of Christen Press. Press announced her arrival last Saturday when earned her first cap and scored two goals, only the third time that has happened in U.S. women’s soccer history. Press added another one in the second match when Shannon Boxx found her on a two-on-one break and she coolly slotted it home. Press exudes hunger. She snaps up the ball, driving towards the goal, but has the tact and skill to finish.

“The thing that has impressed me about them is the mobility and the way that they kept possession for us and the opportunities that they created for themselves and for other players,” Sermanni told the media after the game. “Press has had two outstanding games. Three goals in less than two matches is a great start.”

The U.S. now boasts a scary, scary arsenal of offensive players. The mercurial Wambach, sublime Morgan, and now, the fiery Leroux and eager Press have all proven that they can contribute and excel, a truly tantalizing scenario more than two years out until the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

The U.S. backline wasn’t tested too much in the game, but individual performances from cap-debutante Whitney Engen and Kelley O’Hara stood out. There’s no need to call O’Hara a converted defender any longer. She is a left back, full stop. She pushed up and sent cross in from the left wing, played in beautiful looping through balls and cleaned up in the back, most notably, clearing a sure Scotland goal off the goal line, with the calm demeanor of someone relaxing at the beach. Engen used her first cap to demonstrate her aggressiveness, covering an impressive amount of the backfield, while Crystal Dunn, who also made her USWNT senior team debut, was solid in the limited time she played.

We’ve always known that this is a fun team. The squad is deep with personalities and plays fun soccer. But if this game in Nashville is any indication of what Tom Sermanni’s reign will bring, the level of fun and attractive play might rise even higher. It’s already evident that Sermanni is encouraging creativity. He switched up Megan Rapinoe and Heather O’Reilly on the wings at one point, which did not turn out awful. Sydney Leroux had a neat nutmeg and cut back that almost made her an early contender for goal of the year if not for a wide shot, and Press had a cheeky backheel that set up Leroux again in front of goal. These sparks of inspiration, along with the strong foundation of athleticism and skill among the team could prove to be the hallmark of Tom Sermanni’s still-young tenure, which, from the view from LP Field could shine as bright as the Music City’s famous neon.

Maura Gladys covers the United States women's national team for ASN.

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