ST. JOHN’S, Canada— Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé witnessed plenty of firsts in a Canadian jersey at last month’s SheBelieves Cup despite her decade of previous experience between the posts for the national team.
The tournament opener against the Americans marked Canada’s first appearance in the competition as well as the official beginning of the Bev Priestman era, with the 34-year-old managing her first match since being appointed last October.
While Labbé and her teammates already had plenty of enthusiasm going into the game against the U.S — their first real action in nearly a calendar year — getting the first opportunity to work in-person with Priestman made it that much more exciting.
Okkkkkkkkk maybe just a tad https://t.co/efzLV6WUw3— Stephanie Labbé (@stephlabbe1) February 15, 2021
“It’s always exciting with a new coach,” Labbé told Waking the Red. “Number one, not really knowing for sure what you’re going to get and what it’s going to look like.
“Anytime you get into that environment where you’re in person and seeing them day in and day out, being in training sessions, seeing how they react to games and different moments of the game, I think it’s really exciting what we have and really exciting what she’s bringing to the team.”
To start the competition, Labbé was on the bench and serving as the backup option behind starting keeper Kailen Sheridan. Unfortunately for Sheridan, an innocuous-looking injury spelled the end of her tournament just ten minutes into the first match, with Labbé taking her spot in goal for the remainder of the competition.
Be it Labbé, Sheridan, or any of the other goalkeeping options Canada can go to, the FC Rosengård keeper sees the position as an area of strength and depth within the squad.
“We’re blessed to have so many great goalkeepers,” said Labbé of the current crop of Canadian keepers. “I think about the many different options we have and we have like four or five goalkeepers that can step in on any given day and be the starting goalkeeper for this team.”
Canada finished the SheBelieves Cup with a win and two defeats in three matches played, falling 1-0 in their first match against the U.S before following that up with a 1-0 victory over Argentina and losing just three days later 2-0 to Brazil.
In a tournament lasting just one week, it’s difficult to implement real change in a side’s tactical strategy and approach to the game, and yet Priestman did exactly that in Orlando.
With a focus on playing out the back with purpose, Canada possessed bravery on the ball in the defensive half, a characteristic that wasn’t nearly as prominent before the arrival of the new manager.
Although the results were somewhat mixed in early days of “Priestman ball”, Labbé trusts the process and suggests the wins to go with it are a matter of time moving forward.
“I think she’s challenging a lot of things and changing things up, which I think is really important, gets people out of their comfort zones.
“That can only move this team forward and get us results, not only in the short term but in the long term as well.”
As the last line of defence, Labbé has made a name for herself as one of Canada’s finest shot-stoppers throughout her 75 appearances for her country.
With so many of her finest moments in goal coming in the form of a strong hand, the 34-year-old is also more than happy to play a key role with her feet in providing a calming presence in the Canadian build-up.
“I love playing possession, I love playing out of the back, I love finding solutions to teams and how they press, I see that as one of my strengths in terms of distribution and decision-making.
“I think with my experience I’m able to bring in high-pressure situations, I can bring a sense of calmness and composure so that when young players maybe are getting nervous or they have one or two bad passes, I hope to bring in a type of confidence and composure to keep encouraging them to get on it again and to make their next play a good one.”
Boasting some 15 years of playing professionally, the Edmonton native has plenty of wisdom to share with her younger teammates. But despite her seniority, she insists those relationships benefit both parties.
“I think it’s kind of two-fold. For sure I try to share my experiences in terms of things that I’ve learned in my career, but I think also for me, it’s being humble enough to understand that the game has changed and the game is evolving so much that I can also learn from them and from their fresh eyes.
“For me, it’s understanding my experience but also understanding that other people have different points of view.”
Proud of her influence and ability to positively impact her teammates off the pitch, Labbé is prepared to help maximize Canada’s chances of topping the podium in Tokyo at this summer’s Olympic Games in any role tasked to her amid the uncertainty of the health status of Sheridan.
“I have my eyes firmly set on helping this team win a gold medal, whatever my role may be. Obviously, I hope to be able to contribute on the field because I know how I can be an asset to this team but at the same time, I know I can be an asset both on and off the field so I’m just going to continue to work hard.”
Having already accomplished so much to date for the national team — perhaps most notably winning bronze in the 2016 Olympics in Rio — Labbé remains as motivated as ever to give it her all in pursuit of bringing home another medal for her country.
Heading into what could be her final Olympic Games, Labbé makes a point to remind herself to live in the moment and reserves the idea of retirement as an afterthought.
“I think for me, I just really want to continue to stay present and try not to focus too much on what’s going to happen. I don’t want to make any decisions before it happens, so much can happen and so much can change and I think the second you put limits on what you can achieve and what the end looks like, I think you can start to see the effects in terms of performance and enjoyment.”