With the Women’s World Cup into the knockout rounds, the United States advanced in typical style, winning their bracket with 7 points. Even being drawn into “The Group of Death” with three of the four bracket teams ranked in the top 10, the defense held strong and the offense got on the scoreboard, everyone played their role.
From bracket play, the world has gotten a good look at who makes up the United State’s roster of 23. Should the world be scared? Absolutely! Especially with the likes of standout players for the U.S., forward Sydney Leroux and defender Julie Johnston in the starting 11 players. But did you know, they grew up playing soccer right here in Arizona?
Not too many people recognize the skill and talent that is produced in Arizona. Both women played for the same coach, Les Armstrong and trained at The Center for Athletic Performance and Physical Therapy. Both of these players performed the programs designed for them and their teams to help their success.
Sydney Leroux, originally born in Surrey, British Colombia, Canada has dual citizenship and chose to represent her American side when choosing national teams. She moved to Scottsdale, Arizona her last two years of high school playing for SC Del Sol Soccer club and attending Horizon High School. While helping her club team achieve national success, Leroux was collegiately noticed and landed a scholarship to UCLA. The rest of her journey to the senior national team is history.
While Americans can be happy to have her on their side of the pitch, Canada doesn’t seem to have quite the same feeling. Emotions became evident during a friendly match versus Canada in Toronto. During this particular match, Leroux didn’t hit the field until the 74th minute and heard nothing but boos and negative bantering from the Canadian fans. Despite the noise, Leroux did what she does best and with a perfect through ball leading her to goal, she took one touch to beat the keeper and scored to put the U.S. up 3-0. Outraged, Canadian fans turned there bantering into cursing aided by both hands to flip her off. Still unfazed, Leroux flashed her U.S. crest and used her finger to shush the crowd.
Even after the game, the bantering, cursing and now threats proceeded through social media and other outlets. They spoke negative of her character and morality, degraded her family and wished ill things upon her. Although Leroux spoke her peace, the noise only faded gradually. How can a whole nation collectively put down someone so harshly who simply followed their dreams and are now achieving them with great success? While host nation Canada might be bitter at the fact that she chose the better side (in my American opinion), Arizona has a reason to cheer even louder over their boos.
Alongside Sydney, Arizona native Julie Johnston has made her senior national team debut this World Cup. Born in Mesa, attending Dobson High School, Johnston was always a player with determination. After playing club, she accepted a scholarship to Santa Clara University and in 2012 found herself named captain of the U.S. team that won the under-20 Women’s World Cup. Johnston definitely earned her spot on the youth national team, but even into last fall, she wasn’t called up to the senior national team for the CONCACAF Women’s Championship until a late injury put her on the roster.
During the tournament, Johnston was using sparingly. Preceding the CONCACAF Championship, Johnston was again used for the team’s next tournament, The Algarve Cup in Faro, Portugal. This is where Johnston began to take advantage of her opportunity and even doing a little more. She started three of their four games and scored her first goal for the U.S. Women’s National Team in the tournaments final.
With time getting closer to the World Cup, the U.S. now had three send-off matches for the final preparation for the world’s biggest stage. Julie got the nod in all three games. She showed more of her defensive capability and was also able to score in two of their three send-off games. Julie has become a necessity on defense and now a threat on offense.
For some who haven’t followed the National Team besides during the World Cup, her starting and playing every minute of every bracket game might come as a surprise, but there’s no denying her performances. She even managed to earn Player of the Game during her performance vs. Nigeria and even scoring, but controversially having it called back. Johnston is not only an asset and breakout player for this World Cup, but being the second youngest player on the roster, has a bright future with the senior team.