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Sydney Leroux focuses on future with Orlando Pride after returning to pitch

Following the excitement of her first game back with the Pride, Leroux is continuing to work toward top match fitness.

Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux (2) holds her child on the pitch after her team's 1-1 draw with Sky Blue FC Sunday. (Steve Luciano/AP)

SANFORD, Fla. — More than a year after playing in her last NWSL game, Pride striker Sydney Leroux just wanted to get her first minutes over with.

When she took the pitch on Sunday against Sky Blue FC, the moment was emotional for both Leroux and her teammates. But at the same time, Leroux knew those minutes didn’t complete her comeback — they marked an important next step on her way back to elite match fitness.

Now, Leroux is focused on the future. She doesn’t sugar coat it. She’s tired. She’s sore. She’s still battling to return to to full speed, fighting to lose 25 pounds of baby weight. But she’s also happy, living her dream of having it all.

“Being a mom is hard,” Leroux said. “There were definitely sleepless nights where I didn’t know if I could do this. But you just do. You get up and do it again.”

The decision to play Leroux on the road against Sky Blue FC was a bit of a roll of the dice for coach Marc Skinner. Since she returned to practice in early August, Leroux had always been eager to leap ahead, cracking jokes about playing in a game within weeks of returning to basic drills.

After successfully holding her back for almost two months, Skinner felt confident Leroux was ready to play in a contained environment, selecting the final minutes of the game to avoid the risk of fatigue. Yet although Sunday’s moment was special for the team, the coach is most looking forward to seeing the striker return to full strength in the 2020 season.

“We won’t see the best of Syd this season, of course not,” Skinner said. “She’s been out a long, long time. Once we have that offseason, it’ll be like the best signing. I can’t wait to get her back. I genuinely can’t wait to unleash her properly.”

For Leroux, perhaps the greatest physical challenge is a typical part of parenting a newborn — the lack of sleep. Between nighttime feeding and the perilous sleep schedule of a three-month-old, Leroux said that she’s exhausted most mornings when she arrives to training.

This process is different than Leroux’s last return from pregnancy. She gave birth to her son, Cassius, at the end of the 2016 NWSL season. That timing provided her with an entire offseason to return to full fitness. The challenge of launching back into the team midseason was different, jumpstarting her recovery.

The knowledge her team was out on the field training every day offered an added impetus to push Leroux to expedite her return. Now, the challenge comes with the satisfaction of knowing she’s achieving both of her dreams at the same time.

When she first set her goal of returning by the end of this season, Leroux took inspiration from former teammates who had done the same. Now, her role is flipped as she offers advice to others.

“People ask me now, ‘How do you do it?’ and you just do,” Leroux said. “It’s what you wanna do and it’s your dream. There’s no reason to stop that. You can have kids and have that amazing life and also have your career. You can do both.”

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