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.