Bright future ahead for Canadian women’s team goalkeepers

Sportsnet's Irfaan Gaffar caught up with Canadian women’s soccer coach John Herdman to discuss the news of the friendly against the U.S. on home soil, and how the team's younger players have the mindset that they’re not really the underdogs.

To say it’s been a hectic few weeks for Canadian goalkeepers in the National Women’s Soccer League would be an understatement.

All three shot stoppers from north of the border have seen significant and meaningful minutes for their respective clubs in the thick of the season.

Despite being at different points in their careers, each is a starter and is proving to be crucial to their NWSL team’s success.

Let’s take a closer look:

Stephanie Labbe – Washington Spirit

Washington has seen a lot of roster turnover since last year’s trip to the playoffs, and Stephanie Labbe is playing a crucial role in guiding a young, less experienced side. While she’s familiar with some Washington players — including Spirit captain and fellow Canadian Shelina Zadorsky — it’s been a learning experience for all.

What the 30-year-old has provided the Spirit in her second NWSL season is stability. She’s already played more minutes this year than in 2016. Although the Spirit had some struggles to start the campaign, they recently put together a three-game unbeaten run, with Labbe making 13 saves over that stretch, earning two clean sheets and letting in just a single goal to the second-place Chicago Red Stars.

Over seven occasions this season, she’s faced over 10 shots in a game, including a season-high 20 against Houston. Taking a look at her season thus far, the Canadian has conceded 18 goals and made 49 saves, third-most in the league.

For Labbe, though, her biggest growth is how she’s adapted to the mental aspects of the game. Even though she won an Olympic medal with Canada in Rio last summer, she had to play second fiddle when she returned to Washington and watched the rest of the season, including the playoffs, from the bench as the backup. Rather than letting that sour her attitude, she nabbed the starter’s role in 2017 and hasn’t looked back.

Sabrina D’Angelo – North Carolina Courage

The 24-year-old is coming off a tremendously successful 2016 campaign that saw her win an NWSL championship and an Olympic medal.

While the club moved — North Carolina relocated from the Western New York area prior at the start of the season — the Courage are seeing the same kind of success on the field as they did a year ago. The team sits in first place in the NWSL and boasts one of the league’s best road records.

This marks D’Angelo’s third season in the NWSL. Her rookie campaign was cut short due to injury, but she came out with a vengeance in 2016 and backstopped her team, literally, to the NWSL title in a shootout win over Washington where she made three penalty saves and was named the game’s MVP.

The best way to describe D’Angelo’s 2017 performance is steady. She’s seen 630 minutes of action and has earned three clean sheets.
Her career trajectory is on pace both professionally and on a national level, where she’s eased into the backup role behind Labbe.

Kailen Sheridan – Sky Blue FC

Sheridan has been quite the revelation. Despite being a rookie, she’s had little in terms of growing pains and has made a nearly seamless transition from college ball to the professional game.

The 21-year-old finds herself in the middle of the pack in terms of save percentage at 73.3%. She’s conceded 19 goals, made 50 saves (second-most in the league), earned a clean sheet and has seen action in 13 matches for Sky Blue. The squad has a post-season spot in their view and Sheridan is a major reason for that.

What does this mean for the national team?

Goalkeeping has turned into a position of depth for Canada.
There was instant panic when longtime starter Erin McLeod went down with an ACL injury last March. But Labbe rose to the occasion at the Olympics and helped the team achieve back-to-back podium finishes.

With D’Angelo and Sheridan adapting so well to the professional environment, the future of Canadian goalkeeping looks bright for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 2020 Olympics and beyond.

For those wondering about McLeod’s status, after an extensive rehab, she recently returned to action in Sweden for FC Rosengård.

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