If United States striker Sydney Leroux was expecting a warm welcome home, she could be in for a bit of a rude awakening.
The 21-year-old Surrey, B.C. native - who came through the Canadian youth soccer system, before turning her back on the Canadian U-20 team and capping for the American program - has once again awoken regional passions, as she prepares to help the Americans qualify for the London Olympics.
The largest Vancouver soccer supporters group, the Southsiders, who have purchased over a 100 ticket packages and will attend every game of the Olympic qualifying tournament, intend to let her know how they feel about that decision when the Americans play their first game at BC Place on Friday.
"We don't want the Canadian national team setup, the money that goes with it and the development opportunities for youth, to be seen as something that is launching someone's career. We don't want people to be mercenaries at the national level. If people are going to wear the Maple Leaf, they should for it with pride, and they should wear it for life," Devon Rowcliffe, a long-time member of the Southsiders, said.
"Let's just say, she will be hearing a lot from our section throughout the tournament."
'What could have been?'
Amplifying the 'what could have been' sentiments, Leroux was recently selected first pick overall in the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) draft. But even before that Leroux and the Southsiders had a bit of history together. She made her professional debut for the Women's Whitecaps when she was only 15. And it was around that time that she made the decision to look for other opportunities south of the border.
Brett Graham, the vice-president of the Southsiders, said that it didn't sit well, even then with their membership, despite the fact she played for a club they supported.
"Many felt it was unfortunate decision by the Whitecaps to sign her. And while it was never an official boycott, some of the membership chose to stay away from the women's club game for years because of it," Graham said. "If you're willing to accept that she had valid reasons to leave, it only encourages more people to believe it's OK."
For Michael McColl, who immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 2007 and has been a member of the Southsiders since 2008, Leroux's decision to eventually choose America was baffling.
"I would never, as a Scottish person, think of switching to play for England. It simply is not done," McColl said. "So, for someone who has had money spent on them, getting brought up in the system, and being given a lot here, it really is a kick in the teeth to the Canadian team.
"I know she is not the first and she won't be the last, but for the Southside, it really is one of the biggest insults you can do," McColl said.
Women's soccer taken huge strides
Ill-will aside, the Southsiders, who spend much of their summers following the Vancouver Whitecaps' across North America in the MLS setup, have spent the past few months encouraging the local soccer community to come out and support Canada throughout the tournament.
"The women haven't really played a lot in Canada the past five years and we think it's important to come out and support them while they're here," Graham said, "We really want to show that there is a demand for national team games here, so whether it's the men's or women's side, Vancouver will be considered as a host."
And for those general sports fans, who tend to snicker at the women's game, McColl has a message for them.
"I've been very dismissive of the women's game it in the past. I've likened the entertainment value to that of monkey tennis. But the way I'm looking at it now, having seen the World Cup in Germany last year, and now having spoken to a number of the Canadian team members and seen their passion, I'm convinced that when this tournament is over, a lot of people are going to have their minds changed. A lot of people, myself included, are going to take this game a lot more seriously," McColl said
If the pre-tournament hype from the local soccer supporters is any indication, that level of respect and that level of seriousness has already arrived.
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