UpThe 2017 season has not gone as planned for the Washington Spirit. The 2016 NWSL finalists faced many changes in the offseason that left fans unsure of how this season would go. But the play of their goalkeeper has kept this season from getting out of hand for the Spirit.
Canadian international Stephanie Labbé spent most of last season as the backup goalkeeper to Kelsey Wys. An ACL tear in the offseason for Wys meant that Labbé was once again the number one in D.C. Through four games this season, Labbé leads the league in saves with 23. The 30-year-old Edmonton native has embraced her increased role this season.
“It’s just one of those years where I’m called upon a little more,” Labbé said. “As a goalkeeper, you don’t hate it. You get to show what you train everyday doing and you get to come out and put it into action in games. I’m taking my role very seriously and at the same time looking to help the team get better and grow as well.”
Unlike the past two NWSL seasons, there is no major international tournament such as the Olympics or World Cup to pull large amounts of players away from their club teams. Labbé said that this allows for a greater bond to be formed with her teammates.
“I think it just gives us the ability to be here for longer chunks of time and really develop a better chemistry within the team,” Labbé said. “That’s tough to gain when you’re coming and going because the most time that you build that chemistry is when you’re on the field.”
The goalkeeping trio in Canada is now often considered one of the best in the world. This season, the Spirit have already welcomed to town the other two Canadian National Team goalkeepers. Sabrina D’Angelo and the North Carolina Courage came to Washington on April 15 for Opening Weekend and just this past weekend, rookie Kailen Sheridan and Sky Blue FC were at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
“I’ve believed that for many years that we have a deep, deep goalkeeping talent in Canada. I think it’s pretty special,” Labbé said. “To see the success that they are having, for Kailen to get her first shutout and professional win there, I congratulated her right away. Then to see Sabrina, they’re doing so well and she’s having all of these shutouts. I think it’s just that mutual respect for each other.”
Prior to the start of the NWSL season, the Washington Spirit brought in a former member of the Canadian National Team and the Washington Freedom of the WPS as part of the coaching staff. Nicci Wright was named the goalkeeper coach after Lloyd Yaxley left to join the Orlando Pride staff. Wright previously coached alongside Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra with the Freedom.
“She was somebody that I looked up to when I was younger playing for Canada,” Labbé said of her new goalkeeper coach. “Just learning from each other and I guess having that Canadian connection always feels good to have someone else from home. It’s been great. She’s a really great coach and she understands the game really well.”
If anyone follows Labbé on Instagram, you will have probably seen the newest addition to her family. Labbé got her dog Rio in December and he has changed her life ever since.
“The first three weeks, I regretted it every day, I think. Just having to body train him and keep an eye on him every second of every day was pretty tiring and I didn’t think I would ever sleep again,” Labbé said. “Since then, he’s just completely changed my life. He’s been a bright light. I just find on the sad days or days when it’s hard, I just look at him and he puts a smile on my face. It’s pretty fun to have somebody like that in my life.”
Labbé and the Spirit return to the pitch this Saturday as they travel to Seattle to take on the Reign. They will then return home the following weekend to take on FC Kansas City at the Maryland SoccerPlex.