BOYDS, Md. — As Sydney Leroux stood before a swath of autograph-seeking fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex, three points in tow and her son cradled in her arms, the 27-year-old enjoyed a moment of harmony.
"That was a dream come true, to have a baby and be able to come back and play," Leroux told Goal. "It's amazing that women can do what we do."
Leroux had just gone the full 90 minutes in FC Kansas City's 1-0 win over the Washington Spirit, marking her sixth match back since she and her husband, Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, welcomed Cassius Cruz Dwyer to the world in September.
The striker may not have landed on the score sheet Saturday, but her work ethic up top proved valuable as Kansas City secured the road victory to improve to 2-2-2.
"I can say that was a lot of running today," Leroux said with a grin. "But every single day I feel better. I'm not 100 percent yet, but I'm getting there and I'm happy with my progress."
Leroux announced her pregnancy in January 2016, 13 days after she was traded to Kansas City — putting her club debut on hold for more than a year.
Although Leroux hadn't seen the field since June 2015, when she appeared in the Women's World Cup semifinals, she wasted no time getting back on the board. Less than seven minutes had passed in FCKC's season opener last month when Leroux connected with a Becky Sauerbrunn service and slotted home from 18 yards out, putting her club on the way to a 2-0 win over Boston.
"You just see that she's getting sharper on the ball, her movement, her turns, her speed — it's all coming back each game," said Sauerbrunn, Leroux's teammate with the U.S. and Kansas City. "It's fun to watch because I've known Syd for a really long time and I know having a baby is really tough on the body, but she's taking it all in stride."
Leroux added: "My tenacity is coming back. I think in the beginning I was a little hesitant because I didn't really know how my body worked. I'm still trying to figure out some things, but I feel really good."
As she rounds into form, Leroux is taking inspiration from teammates who also have returned following pregnancies. Three members of the U.S. squad that won the World Cup — Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx and Amy Rodriguez — were mothers. Leroux's FCKC teammate Rodriguez gave birth to her second child last year and also scored in her first NWSL match back before being sidelined by a torn ACL.
While Leroux is known for her speed and physicality, she has relied on her growing soccer IQ to remain effective as she works her way back to full fitness.
"One thing we could see is she's playing a little more mature," Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski said. "She's not that person who was just relying on the reactive speed. Now she's making early runs, she's coming underneath the line, settling the ball and bringing the team into the attack, which is going to be crucial for us going forward."
With U.S. coach Jill Ellis in attendance at the SoccerPlex on Saturday, the question is inevitable: When will Leroux return to the international scene?
Rising stars such as Crystal Dunn, Mallory Pugh and Lynn Williams have increased the competition for attacking roles, but it's safe to say a player of Leroux's pedigree — with 35 goals in 75 caps — will have a place back in the U.S. setup sooner than later.
"I think when I'm mentally and physically ready I'll come back in," Leroux said. "But I'm getting there, so I'm excited for that as well."