Sunday is shaping up to be a very exciting first test for the Seattle Reign.
Sydney Leroux, ignominiously traded to Western New York after requesting a trade to Kansas City to be near her husband, will be back in Seattle for the first game of the NWSL season, and she is mad. We know how Leroux plays when she is mad – witness her goal against Canada in 2013 after bearing the brunt of Canadian fan attacks.
Since the Reign got very little for the deal that sent Leroux packing, she probably should feel slighted. Laura Harvey might have felt offended by Leroux’s request to be traded to the team that bested the Reign to win the championship in 2014. Or Harvey might just have been tired of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Leroux struggled all of the 2014 season to fit into the Reign style of play and just never quite succeeded. For the brash, physically dominant Leroux, the tactical, possession-oriented play of the Reign proved impossible to adapt to. She was often out of her depth, failing to make needed runs off the ball and resorting to relatively predictable play on the ball. Her productivity suffered – after scoring 11 goals for the Boston Breakers in 2013, she scored only 5 in 22 games for the Reign. And she needed 51 shots to get that many.
This is not to denigrate Leroux as a player – I imagine the Reign are nervous to go against her on Sunday. When she’s on, she harasses defenses like it’s her job and uses her speed to make the best defenders in the world look like B-siders. And, if she shows up like she has said she will, she’s sure to bring the fire. She just never found a home in the Reign style of play.
It’s players like Leroux – a bit cocky, opportunistic, media-savvy, and able to bring it when it’s time – that make the game so much fun. Women’s soccer needs personalities, grudges, and hurt feelings. It’s what keeps the fire going. I love a good grudge match. And I’m excited to watch a new one unfold on Sunday.
Hope Solo has successfully complied with certain unannounced conditions and is back with the USWNT. Watching her implode over the last few years has been painful, and I really hope she has exorcized whatever demons she has. Even though her personal life has been erratic and violent, her playing is still world-class. She is an absolute joy to watch play.
It’s not fair, I know, to speculate about her problems. That’s not going to stop me, since I’m a soccer fan, and we speculate about inappropriate things. Hope needs to get help with her drinking. I would be shocked if a 30-day sobriety period weren’t part of the plan to get her back on the team. Her memoir is so frank when she discusses her mother’s addiction. She clearly understands the unique pain that comes along with loving someone who is stuck inside addiction, how you can respect their struggle and love their spirit while needing to distance yourself from the person to become whole yourself.
Actually, I wish US Soccer were more upfront about whatever conditions they put on Solo, especially if treatment for alcoholism or some other substance abuse condition was part of the plan. They would never, of course, especially with a woman soccer player: the pressure on these women to be perfect role models is out of control. US Soccer will never recognize that you’re not a ‘bad role model’ if you struggle with addiction or get help for addiction, but it is irresponsible to pretend like alcoholism and addiction don’t exist among professional athletes. Hell, even Hope dismisses criticism about her drinking by claiming that it’s part of athlete culture to work hard and play harder. Denial surrounding alcoholism and addiction does not limit itself to families. But when serious athletes are more likely than non-athletes to drink to excess, open conversations about drinking culture and alcohol abuse need to be a part of soccer culture. Even women’s soccer culture. Even when there are girls out there who look up to these players. Especially when there are girls out there who look up to these players.