- Canada have conceded just once in 2019 so far
- Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe talks us through her role at the back
- The NWSL star set for first Women’s World Cup as No1
Anyone who gets their name on the scoresheet against Canada at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ will find themselves in an exclusive club.
Since the turn of the year its members number precisely one: Nigeria’s Desire Oparanozie.
Having played the likes of England, Sweden and Norway in their six games in 2019, all that points to a slick, well-oiled defensive machine. Having watched on at both Germany 2011 and Canada 2015 from the bench, before shining at the 2016 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, the one looking set to protect that proud record when they step out in France is goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe.
In a year that has already seen her produce penalty heroics to finish third at the Algarve Cup, FIFA.com caught up with the 32-year-old to get her take on a goalkeeper’s role in a water-tight defence.
“We work really tightly together and our communication is key, just playing together so much and knowing each other over the years, we know what we need in pressure situations. When it’s a big game and a loud stadium it comes down to the body language and being able to communicate just by looking at each other. It’s something that grows with time, it doesn’t just come instantly.
“I like to be direct, I don’t want to just keep communicating because then it starts to go in one ear and out the other, so I look to be really specific with my information. At the same time, I’m a big person when it comes to positive communication between people. When someone’s doing a good job or they just need a little bit of help I like getting really close to people to give them that positive communication to keep lifting them up.”
Being the 11th outfielder
“From when I started playing competitive soccer until I was 17 I would play half a game in goal and half a game as an outfield player and I think that’s really attributed to why my feet are so strong today and why I’m almost able to play as an extra outfield player.
“The position of a goalkeeper has evolved so much in the last ten years, going from just being a shot-stopper to being the eleventh player on the field, you’re at the start of every attack. I think it’s just being comfortable in that position and being confident. The more that you can be that player the bigger threat you are to the other team.”
Feeling the emotion
“When we’re able to keep possession in the offensive half I just get to sit back and watch beautiful football.”
But what sets Labbe’s pulse going with anticipation when watching on from her penalty area and what relieves the tension for the North Carolina Courage stopper?
- Excitement: “The team putting pressure on, putting crosses into the box with big numbers coming in, it’s us winning our one v one battles. When someone goes into a tackle and they’re able to skip out of that then the game opens up and they’re dribbling and engaging someone else.”
- Calmness: “Moments when someone is under pressure and you expect them to kick it out of play but they step on it, turn and break out of pressure themselves. Those are the moments when everyone takes a breath and relaxes.”
Learning to be No1
“Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc [Editor’s note: her predecessors] have taught me so much. Both of them have this incredible presence on the field, you can see it, you can feel it, you can hear it. That’s the biggest thing. When I’m on the field I want people to notice me and notice this calm, dominant presence. That’s something I’ve definitely learned from watching and training with them.”
- Funniest team-mate: “Oh… ah, so many… We’ll go with Sinc (Christine Sinclair).”
- Loudest: “Pre-game? Well, Desi is our hype woman, so I’ll go with Desi Scott.”
- The last to leave the training pitch: “Probably Jessie Fleming and Sinc.”
- Worst loser in training: “I’m going to go with Chappy (Allysha Chapman) [laughs].”
- Pre-game DJ: “I am! I’m like a techno, hip-hop kind of girl, but I get everyone to send me a song, so I make a playlist that’s conducive to everybody. But then I fill the playlist with my extras.”