U.S. women’s national soccer team striker Sydney Leroux scored in the 93rd minute to finish off the Americans’ 3-0 victory over Canada on Sunday, but it wasn’t the final score line that frustrated the Canadian onlookers. It was the way in which Leroux celebrated it.
Having entered the match in the 74th minute to a cascade of boos from the Canadian crowd, the 23-year-old Leroux commemorated her 17th senior goal for the USA by kissing the crest on her jersey and putting her index finger to her lips, symbolically shushing the nearly 23,000 spectators in attendance. Again, boos rained down from the rafters at Toronto’s BMO Field.
"Why the hostility?” you ask.
See, Leroux was born in Surrey, B.C., to a white Canadian mother and a black American father, making her eligible to play for either nation. Despite spending a good portion of her childhood in British Columbia—and making two appearances for the Canadian youth team—she moved to the States at 15 and attended UCLA from 2008 to 2011. Since she had always harbored dreams of playing for the U.S., she chose to rep the Red, White and Blue at the senior level.
That decision—perhaps understandably—hasn’t played well with many Canadian soccer fans. As a result, Leroux has been booed and called “Judas.”
"I know that some people don't respect my decision and some people do," she told Yahoo! Sports early in 2012. "Not everyone's going to like you, and I feel like you have to have some enemies. If you don't, you're not doing something right."
More fuel was added to the rivalry’s fire at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, when the United States beat Canada 4-3 in a contentious semifinal turned by a controversial free kick awarded to the Americans. The U.S. would go on to win the gold medal.
Circle back to Sunday’s so-called friendly, a game “billed as ‘The Rematch’" of the U.S. and Canada’s Olympic encounter the summer before.
The Canadians had struggled to put together much in the way of attack, but through nearly 70 minutes, the match remained scoreless.
Then, Alex Morgan scored two nearly identical goals in the span of two minutes for the U.S., and the game was out of reach. Cue Leroux’s tally in stoppage time, and the Canadian fans were fed up with the day’s result.
Leroux celebrates her goal, pops the U.S. crest, and our neighbors to the north are none too happy aboot it.
According to Yahoo! Sports Canada, Leroux “outraged many of the Canadian fans in the crowd and the commentators in Sportsnet's broadcast booth, with analyst Craig Forrest calling Leroux ‘classless,’ adding ‘That's way too American for me’ and saying ‘You can have her.’”
As an American who closely follows sports, the “too American” line hurts. But it hits home.
"Maybe not the classiest of moves," Canadian captain Christine Sinclair told reporters of Leroux's actions. "She scored on us, and an individual can do what they like. I probably wouldn't have done the same, but we move on."
But Leroux’s reaction wasn’t just payback for all the boos and negativity over the past few years. According to Leroux, there was another mitigating factor:
When you chant racial slurs, taunt me and talk about my family don't be mad when I shush you and show pride in what I represent. #america— Sydney Leroux (@sydneyleroux) June 3, 2013
Venom from opposing fans is one thing, but racism is another. And fellow U.S. national teamer Abby Wambach was among the people who jumped to Leroux’s support, per the Canadian Press.
If you knew some of things that Canadian folks tweet at her, that for her was a special moment, and that for her was saying, "Hey look, I'm here, I'm on the U.S. team." So for her, I'm proud of her to come on in the time that she had.
So was it a group of fans at BMO Field who targeted and harassed Leroux? Seemingly not. But whether it took place in Toronto on Sunday or sometime in the past via Twitter, any racism or nationalism-based hatred is inappropriate.
Nonetheless, the Canadian soccer supporters group known as the Voyageurs condemned the practice on its Facebook page:
We really shouldn't need to address this, but given the firestorm created by an accusation coming from one American player this morning, a reminder to everyone: We have zero tolerance for racist behaviour. Anyone engaging in this type of behaviour is not representative of the Voyageurs, and is not welcome in our sections.
Good on them for doing so.
Still, it’s naïve to think that racism isn’t a part of soccer. Race-related taunting has been the subject of much discussion and debate in the world of soccer in recent months. AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng has walked off the pitch in protest of bigoted fans. Mario Balotelli has threatened to do the same. Why wouldn’t this scourge exist in the women’s game, too?
Nationalism, too, is a huge part of the sport. And whether it’s fans of rival countries fighting before a World Cup qualifier or throwing urine at opposing players, it’s an unwelcome yet pervasive piece of the puzzle. (Certainly there is a burgeoning rivalry on the soccer field between the U.S. and Canadian women, but it’s not like there’s a huge history of conflict between the two nations, a la England and Germany.)
What about sexism? There haven’t been any accusations of chauvinism in Toronto on Sunday, but percentages would suggest that among the 23,000 fans, some disliked Leroux because she’s a woman playing a man’s sport…or some ridiculousness along those lines.
Whatever their rationale, a majority of the fans in Toronto were rooting against Leroux. And rather than fighting back against the verbal abuse with screaming and hollering of her own, she responded in the most effective way she could. She did her talking by scoring, and then quieted her naysayers with her knee-jerk, crest-popping salutation.
Did Leroux’s celebration cross the line? Well, it’s no worse than a player tearing off his shirt and twirling it around his head as he slides on his knees toward the corner flag.
Some are suggesting this instance was particularly salty because there’s no need to rub it in against your former team or native land. Such was the case when Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid in the Champions League and refused to celebrate because it was against his former teammates at Manchester United. Germany’s Lukas Podolski did the same after scoring against his native Poland at Euro 2008.
And that’s a fair point. Some would see that as unnecessary or crossing the line. Everyone has a right to his opinion on matters of this nature.
But similarly, Leroux has every right to celebrate her goal in the way she sees fit.
It’s a celebration. And celebrations in sports are all about both rejoicing in your success AND tweaking the opposition.
Amused by Canadian angst over Leroux goal celebration. Don't boo her beforehand next time, and maybe she won't do it.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 2, 2013
Her actions might catch some flak in this age of political correctness, but let’s not read too much into it.
It’s not like Leroux spat on the Canadian flag. There’s no reason for her to hate Canada. She’s wearing the U.S. uniform. That’s where her devotion lies on the field. And that’s the team with whom she’s been playing for going on six years.
She’s a 23-year-old woman who’s getting booed and criticized for any number of reasons, most of which have to do with a children’s game that she just so happens to play for a living. Forgive her for showing a little bit of emotion.
“Maybe not the classiest of moves,” as Sinclair said. That’s fair.
But can you blame Leroux for defending herself in the only way she knew how?