Canadian Women’s Team goaltender Kailen Sheridan can’t stop smiling these days.
Last week, the 26-year-old from Pickering, Ont., got engaged to her longtime girlfriend, with the couple expecting to tie the knot late next year.
Things are also going well on the pitch for Sheridan. She is having a stellar NWSL season with the San Diego Wave, recording four shutouts as the expansion club sit in first place after 10 games.
Sheridan is also about to begin an important new chapter in her international career – that of the undisputed starting goaltender for the Canadian women’s team, which hosts South Korea on Sunday at BMO Field in Toronto in an international friendly match. This match serves as preparation for July’s CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico, which is the qualifying competition for the 2023 FIFA World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The CONCACAF qualifiers will be Canada’s first major tournament since the retirement of veteran goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé in April. With Labbé off the stage, it will now be up to Sheridan, who has 21 caps since making his international debut in 2016, to help drive this team forward.
Coach Bev Priestman gave Sheridan a public vote of confidence last week when she named her roster for the game against South Korea, reiterating that the job of the No. 1 goaltender rests in her hands.
Do not compare with Labbé
“I wouldn’t say it adds pressure, but honestly it gives me a lot of confidence that someone like Bev would say that and be really confident in her mind about it,” Sheridan told CBC Sports. “At the end of the day, although I always want to perform and be the best I can be, now I want to put it out there for her and for the team.
“Bev comes out on a limb for me, makes me want to play harder for her.”
For Sheridan, that moment was a long time coming after serving as Labbé’s back-up for six years. She’s been consistently one of the top goaltenders in the NWSL since joining the league in 2017 from Clemson University. But his path to the starting job for Canada had been blocked by Labbé, who was one of the key figures in the gold medal-winning squad in Tokyo last summer.
Sheridan admits she has “massive shoes to fill”.
“Steph was an amazing leader and the way she watches the game and comments on the game, works with players off the pitch was so impressive, and that’s the biggest thing I’ll take away from working with her,” Sheridan said. .
Fans and pundits alike will no doubt be interested to see if Sheridan can live up to the incredible standards set by Labbé, who earned the nickname “Minister of National Defence” while playing for Canada.
For Sheridan, however, making such comparisons is a pointless exercise.
“I remember having a frank and honest conversation with Steph, where she said to me, ‘You shouldn’t compare yourself to me, and I’m not going to compare myself to you.’ In the end, we were never going to be the same, but there were things we could take from each other. This mentality was one of the reasons why she was considered one of the best to the world and why she is who she is,” Sheridan said.
WATCH | Sheridan makes a big save:
To Sheridan’s great credit, she was never bitter about having to play second fiddle for so long or the lack of opportunities with Canada when Labbé was the starter. Instead, she maintained a philosophical attitude.
“It’s really easy to be angry about it. I worked really hard with a mental performance coach and sports psychologists, and I realized that getting angry wouldn’t help me. “, Sheridan said. “It’s not easy. It sucks, I won’t lie about it. It’s difficult. I don’t think any goalkeeper will sit here and say, ‘I’m happy to be sitting on the bench. We are all competitive and we want to play.
“The relationship you have with the other goalkeepers is so key to creating that weighting within the team. If I hadn’t had a strong relationship with Steph, I might have been a bit more bitter about it. subject. But I worked really hard on that mental side.”
Besides Sheridan, there are three other goaltenders currently in camp with the Canadian team: Sabrina D’Angelo (11 international selections) and young uncapped Anna Karpenko and Lysianne Proulx. Sheridan is the most experienced of the quartet, which means it’s up to her to set the tone and continue to nurture a culture of competitiveness among goaltenders that Labbé and fellow veteran Erin McLeod have established.
“They created it and for me it’s about maintaining it now because it’s worked really well for us,” Sheridan said. “Sabrina and I want that camaraderie but also that competitiveness, and having that balance, and creating that environment with the new goaltenders, and setting the standards of what we need to be successful.
“Steph and Erin laid the groundwork, so I don’t have to create anything. It’s just about maintaining it.”