Sydney Leroux coming to Orlando this past off-season was one of the biggest moves that the Pride made all year. She was part of the FC Kansas City team that transferred to Utah and became the Utah Royals FC. The U.S. international missed 2016 when she was pregnant and then came back to lead Kansas City in scoring the following year. The former USWNT starter never made it to Salt Lake City, and instead the Orlando Pride traded a first-round draft pick for her, and Leroux picked up right where she left off.
While the expectation that the UCLA product would help bring the Pride a championship this season fell short, Leroux was one of the best players on the Pride this season and was a consistent figure in Tom Sermanni’s team. She took a while to get things started — her first goal came on May 26 when she recorded a brace in Orlando’s 5-2 win against the Chicago Red Stars — but her defensive effort was consistent all year. Although played as a striker or winger all season, the 28-year-old got back defensively and frequently broke up opposition attacks.
Leroux made 20 appearances in 2018, 15 of them starts. The only games that she wasn’t in the 18 for was at the end of the season when she suffered an illness, followed by a concussion she sustained in her first game back. Other than that, she appeared in every game except for one when she was an unused sub — the May 23 4-3 loss to the North Carolina Courage. She had the second-most minutes among strikers (1,431), with only Alex Morgan having a higher total.
Leroux led the team in scoring with six goals, adding two assists, however she only scored in four different matches. It took her 10 games to finally find the back of the net, and from there she recorded another brace just two weeks later. Only once this season did Leroux get a goal or an assist in a match the Pride lost. That was on July 11 against the Houston Dash — one of the most disappointing results of the season.
While the goals did not occur too often, the shots were there. Leroux tied Morgan for the most shots (51) and led the team in shots on target (24). Her passing accuracy was low at just 70%, but take away Marta — because she’s the GOAT — and Danica Evans, who only played 49 minutes in 2018, and Leroux had the highest passing accuracy among strikers. She also had the second-highest assist total, with Marta again leading the pack among the forwards, with four.
Leroux’s best game is hard to decipher because she scored in bunches this year. She recorded a brace twice and managed a goal and an assist in a third game. Her 90 minutes of play on June 16 against Sky Blue FC may have been the best. The Pride continued to fight back in this match and eventually won it 3-2 from a late Rachel Hill goal.
She got the game started with an early goal in the second minute. A cross from Chioma Ubogagu somehow found Leroux inside the 18 and she made the most of it, cutting inside before powering it into the back of the net.
This was the fastest goal in Orlando Pride history. Her second goal of the match was even better. A ball from Christine Nairn was behind Leroux, but she still managed to get a diving header on it and put the Pride up 2-1.
She finished the match with five shot attempts (three on target) and a 77% passing rate — her fifth best percentage of the year.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Leroux a 6.5 in her first season with the Pride. Ultimately, it was a lower grade than probably was expected in the preseason, but it will end up as one of the higher player ratings.
Her grade would have been higher but she went on a long goalless drought to start the season. While she was continuously in the right positions and getting off shots, Leroux struggled in the first few months of the season and left a good amount of goals on the field.
Once she found that first goal it looked like they were going to start pouring in, but even though she led the team in scoring, she was only able to produce in a handful of games and was not enough of an attacking force this year. But at the end of the day, stats speak loudly, and the fact that she led the team in goals speaks volumes.
Perhaps equally as impressive as her goal total was Leroux’s work on the defensive end. Deployed as a wide forward, she had to track back defensively often and looked natural in her own third. She finished with 10 clearances on the year, which was the most among strikers. Her defensive work was more on display in the beginning of the season, compared to late, but the work ethic was always there.
There are very few certainties about the Pride’s 2019 roster, but it’s hard to imagine Leroux not being back next year. Still, what can be expected of the veteran is more goals, more assists, and that same defensive tenacity.
Much of what to expect from Leroux will depend on who the next coach is and what other players are back. As is the case when any team gets a new coach, there will be a large amount of player turnover, but Leroux should still be a team leader and it would not be surprising if she led the team in goals again.
Leroux has to convert her chances in front of goal and I think next year it will not take her as long to get on the score sheet. I also think she will be more threatening in a larger number of games. That is to say that while her goal total might rise to eight or 10, they will come more consistently in 2019 than just the four games this past season. The team goal in 2019 will be the same as it was in 2018 — to win the NWSL championship — and much of that success could fall on Leroux’s shoulders.