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Sydney Leroux plays for Orlando Pride three months after giving birth

Leroux was emotional while holding her daughter and hugging teammates after the match

Orlando Pride forward Sydney Leroux, right, controls the ball against Sky Blue FC on Sunday. Sept. 29, her first match with the Pride since giving birth to her daughter three months ago. (ISI Photos)

Orlando Pride striker Sydney Leroux took her first step back onto the game-day pitch three months and one day after giving birth to her daughter.

It wasn’t for long — Leroux subbed on for Marisa Viggiano in the 86th minute of the Orlando Pride’s 1-1 draw with Sky Blue FC Sunday — but those minutes were special for the striker, who hadn’t played a game minute with the Pride since September 2018.

The moment reverberated throughout Red Bull Arena, as the announced crowd of 8,314 stood to cheer. Pride players from across the field jogged over to welcome Leroux to the pitch. After the game, keeper Ashlyn Harris took a moment in the Pride huddle to celebrate the inspiration that Leroux offered the team.

With her three-month-old daughter Roux in her arms on the pitch after the game, Leroux couldn’t hold back tears any longer. She covered her face with one hand as teammate Alanna Kennedy tugged her into a hug.

This weekend, coach Marc Skinner said, was different from a typical road game. Players switched off holding Roux on the team’s flight to New Jersey — keeper Haley Kopmeyer first, then Rachel Hill taking a later turn. Leroux’s nighttime routine before the game included coaxing the three-month-old to sleep in a king-sized hotel bed; at half-time, she fed her daughter in between discussing strategy with her teammates.

The experience, Skinner said, was inspirational for his team.

“It brings a unique situation and it really creates a bond,” Skinner said. “The players all love to hold Roux and look after her when [Leroux] needs that little bit of time. It shows just how much it means.”

For Skinner, Leroux’s return to the lineup bolsters the Pride after his attacking options have been “decimated” by injuries and the World Cup this season. Although Leroux has been working to return to the field by the end of this season, he said he is most looking forward to next season to see what she can offer at full strength to the Pride attack.

For now, Skinner said, the goal is to get Leroux “super fit” in the off season so that she can play at the best of her abilities in 2020.

“She’ll have a pent up energy because she wants to get back on that field and show everybody who she is,” Skinner said. “We get that period of time now to build her up. She’s going to be so key to what we do. She’s somebody we’ve missed all year. She is so important to Orlando’s success.”

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