It’s been a year of learning for Sabrina D’Angelo.
Although she recently graduated from college, the Canadian goalkeeper is now busy studying the professional game while facing and training with some of the best strikers in the women’s game on a daily basis.
The 22-year-old native of Welland, Ont., was selected 21st overall by the Western New York Flash in this year’s college draft after a decorated career at the University of South Carolina, where she collected dozens of accolades, including the 2014 President’s Award, the highest honour given to a student-athlete at that school.
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D’Angelo was also just one of three Canadians drafted in the National Women’s Soccer League and so far the only goalkeeper.
She started five games for the Flash and earned her first pro win on May 2 versus the Boston Breakers. Just as she was finding her rhythm, she suffered a right shoulder injury and was sidelined for a number of weeks. Now, she’s focused on bouncing back.
Sportsnet caught up with D’Angelo to discuss her rookie season.
How has the jump from college soccer to professional been for you?
It’s different. It was tough in the beginning because the game at the professional level is a lot faster than it was in college. I definitely have to adapt to that, especially the speed of the ball and the way the girls play. There’s also more pressure to be perfect in what you do, because the forwards are some of the best in the world. That means you’re required to play at your best.
Has it been easy to adapt to the rigorous training and travel schedules?
Actually, I think it’s almost a little bit easier at the professional level because in college you’re dealing with soccer and school. Here, you’re just focused primarily on the soccer aspect of things. I think it’s a little bit easier. Mind you, the level of play is higher, but it’s the only thing you’re focusing on.
How frustrating was it for you to get hurt after you were named the starting goalkeeper for the Flash and played a string of games?
Oh yeah, it was definitely frustrating. Injuries aren’t something you can control. But after that, it was just making sure that I got myself back and healthy, making sure that I was ready to play and that I just wasn’t going back too early. The goalkeeper who is playing now, Chantel [Jones], is doing a tremendous job for our team. I’ll just have to wait my turn, because the goalkeeper position is a lot different than a field player.
As one of the few Canadians drafted out of college into the NWSL, have you felt any extra pressure?
There’s definitely a little bit of pressure, just because I’m not allocated so I take up an international spot. To use an international spot on a goalkeeper is a pretty big deal. It’s just making sure I play to the best of my ability so I can ensure that I’ll stay in the league next year too.
It’s surprising you aren’t on Canada’s current Pan American Games roster. Is the national program still on your radar given your history with the U-17 and U-20 teams?
I was invited to go to the Pan Am Games, but since it’s not an Olympic or World Cup event, you have to be released by your coach. I wasn’t released here just because of my duties with this team. I’ve spoken with the national team and they’re okay with that. They advised me to stay back and play the games here.
Since the senior program is in a transitional phase and given the recent retirement of Karina LeBlanc, where do you see yourself fitting?
I definitely want to get my foot in the door and show them the type of goalkeeper that I am, because I haven’t been in with the full team due to injuries and of course, they had three great goalkeepers there. Hopefully, leading into the Olympics next year, they’ll give me a shot and see who I am.