UCLA's Leroux goes No. 1 in WPS draft

CARSON -- There was never much doubt that Sydney Leroux would be the first selection in Women's Professional Soccer's draft, and when the moment came, she got a face full of water to welcome her to the league.

Leroux, a fast, athletic striker from UCLA with an extensive international background, was on a field at Home Depot Center with the U.S. women's national team when word arrived that the Atlanta Beat had, as expected, used the first selection on her in Friday's draft at the Kansas City Convention Center.

“[I was] told in the middle of practice,” Leroux said. “Abby [Wambach] had a water bottle, and she sprayed me in the face with it, and I kind of choked.”

Stanford's Camille Levin (Newport Coast/Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School) and UC Irvine's CoCo Goodson were the other local players selected -- they were the first two defenders taken. Levin went to New Jersey's Sky Blue FC with the fourth overall pick and Goodson joined Philadelphia in the second round, with the 12th pick.

Leroux's new Beat teammates on the national team -- defenders Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Cox and Amy LePeilbet, and midfielders Carli Lloyd and Kelley O'Hara -- welcomed her with high-fives. She was halfway expecting to be headed to Atlanta.

“I talked to them a little bit [before the draft],” Leroux said. “They said they had their eye on me. Just the usual, kind of. I didn't really know what was going to happen. ...

“Everyone asked me who had the No. 1 pick, and I would say Atlanta, and they would say, 'OK, so you're going to be playing in Atlanta,' and I was like, 'You know, anything can happen,' so I didn't really say anything.”

Leroux was easily the most prominent player on the board. She played in three FIFA U-19 or U-20 Women's World Cups -- the first at 14 for her native Canada -- winning the Golden Ball as MVP and Golden Boot as top scorer with the U.S. captured the 2008 title. She was a three-time All-American at UCLA, scoring 57 goals in four years at UCLA, 16 as a senior and a school record-tying 23 as a sophomore.

She joins an attack that features two former Hermann Award winners -- O'Hara and fellow Stanford alum Christen Press (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School) -- plus veteran Rebecca Moros.

“We've got three great forwards, but we've got one more now ...,” Atlanta coach James Galanis said on WPS's stream of the draft. “Picking up Sydney's just amazing.”

“I'm very excited,” said Leroux, who hopes to win one of 20 roster spots for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers that begin next week in Vancouver, British Columbia, her hometown. “It's been a crazy year, and finally things are kind of coming together, and I'm so happy. I couldn't be happier right now.

“I know I'm young and I'm kind of getting the feel for things still, but I'm still going to work hard and come and do what I'm supposed to do and do what I'm good at, and that's score goals.”

Levin, a first-team All-American, was considered the best outside back available, but she's versatile and can play in midfield, even up top if needed. Some observers believe she and Notre Dame forward Melissa Henderson, taken by Sky Blue with the second pick, are the players most ready to contribute immediately in the five-team, East Coast league.

Goodson, from Ramona, in San Diego County, was the most physical central defender in the draft. The University of Texas transfer is a two-time All-American.

“She has taken a big step in her career today, and knowing the competitor that she is, Philly has made a very smart decision,” UC Irvine coach Scott Juniper said in a statement. “The path of a professional soccer player is a tough one, and CoCo will need all of her focus, determination, and resilience to make her mark, but having worked with her every day for two years, I know she has what it takes.”

San Diego forward Stephanie Ochs was a surpise No. 3 selection by the Boston Breakers. Philadelphia took UW Milwaukee forward Sarah Hagen, who has signed in Germany, with the No. 5 pick, and defending champion Western New York Flash closed the first round by taking Sttanford forward Lindsay Taylor and midfielder Teresa Noyola, the Cardinal's third successive Hermann Award winner.