Prior to the 2019 season, Canadian goalkeeper, Stephanie Labbé returned to the NWSL with the NC Courage in what was one of the worst-kept secrets of the off-season. Earlier this year, she joined Courage Country to talk about that return, along with goalkeeping, the Courage and taking care of herself physically and mentally.
At the beginning of 2019, after former NC Courage goalkeeper, Sabrina D’Angelo left for Sweden, it created an opening for another goalkeeper at the Courage.
“Over the years, I had heard so many positive things from Sabrina,” Labbé said.
“She’s always talked very highly of the club and her experience here. Then after talking to her and getting an idea of her plans, and her decisions — once I had my first conversation with Paul, it was kind of game over from there. I knew this was going to be the right fit for me and the right environment. I think from that first convo, I knew.”
Labbé in the NWSL
Labbé had previous played eight matches in 2016 in the NWSL as keeper for the Washington Spirit, recording a club record of five shut outs in a single season. She played in 2017 again with the Spirit but announced she was taking a medical leave of absence in September of 2017, not returning to the NWSL until this season with the Courage.
The goalkeeper said she always knew she wanted to come back to the NWSL.
“Playing here challenges me in so many different ways,” she said.
“I know especially for my on-field development, the speed of play here, the athleticism, the quality of the players, being in that environment daily is extremely challenging.”
Labbé said that in order to grow, you have to be a bit uncomfortable and put yourself in challenging environments and knew she wanted to return to that type of situation.
“Last year, I had an interesting season with trying to play with the men, and then heading over to Sweden,” she said.
“I think I craved a bit of consistency for sure, but just that everyday challenge, and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. I think in the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted to come back, and the timing just seemed right with Sabrina making her choice to head overseas. My follow-up conversations with Paul just felt like the timing was right.”
World Cup Year
With 2019 being a FIFA World Cup year, Labbé said it’s a unique challenge to balance club and country commitments.
“It’s always an interesting thing when you have a major tournament with the national team to make sure that you’re balancing your goals and you’re balancing your focus and your thoughts and what really you’re doing,” she said.
“Something that I’ve really done really well at in the past few years and worked really hard on is my mindset and my ability to be present so my biggest thing this year is, of course, the World Cup is there and that’s a pretty monumental thing, and it’s the kind of the peak of the soccer world.”
Captain on the Back Line
With the captain of the Courage, Abby Erceg, being on the backline, Labbé said that adds a different dynamic.
“Having a center back who’s going to lead that, who’s going to in possession dictate the rhythm, dictate the speed of play, who can slow it down when we need to, speed it up and communicate so they can see almost everything,” she said.
Labbé noted that the defense is always your last line of defense and the first line of the attack.
“That’s huge to have somebody back there that has that type of leadership and the confidence to do that.”
For the 2019 NC Courage campaign, Labbé said she feels like she brings multiple strengths to the team.
“I say my biggest one is my distribution — just being able to use my feet to help the team play out of pressure,” she said.
She said her ability to read the game was also an asset to the Courage.
“I understand the game a lot and have a pretty high tactical IQ,” Labbé said.
“I think I’m in the right place at the right time a lot because I’m able to anticipate what’s going to happen and read the play and hopefully read it one or two passes ahead of everyone else.”
Next-Level Mental Toughness
Labbé has publicly has talked about and addressed her bouts with depression, and has grown from her battles.
“I’ve done a lot of work on my mindset, my mentality and the mental side of the game,” she said.
“It’s something I struggled with as a young player, and even in my first years with the national team.”
“For me, just doing what I can do every single day to be better, not only as a goalkeeper but as a person — I think that that’s something that really resonates with me and the more this team can do that, is focus on every single day being better.“
Labbé said since 2015, her mental game is something she has put a lot of attention on and energy into.
“Before, I used to always focus on things that I couldn’t control,” she said.
“So number one, it was focusing on everyone else, instead of just myself. The other thing was just focusing on the end process. I wanted to be the starting goalkeeper. I wanted to do this. But that actually took away from what I was doing on the dailies.”
The Courage goalkeeper said coming back, and being in the present has been a huge strep for her.
“For me, just doing what I can do every single day to be better, not only as a goalkeeper but as a person — I think that that’s something that really resonates with me and the more this team can do that, is focus on every single day being better.”
2019 So Far
In 2019 so far, Labbé has a total of 630 minutes played, 7 starts, and 3 clean sheets.
Want to learn more about Stephanie Labbé? Read the answers to our 2019 Starting XI questions.