All Scores

‘Steph is one of the greats’: Labbé’s legacy lives on with Canada

Labbé and her Canadian teammates celebrate their gold-medal win over Sweden at the Tokyo Olympics in August. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Stephanie Labbé was inspiring others years before the world knew her name.

When Washington Spirit goalkeeper Devon Kerr was 12 years old, she asked her parents to drive her to watch the Canadian national team practice close to her home outside of Toronto. She sat on the edge of her dad’s truck, watching a young Labbé dominate the goalkeeper training session with confidence.

“Everything about her was just very positive and bright and happy, so it definitely gave somebody like me, a little 12-year-old, a lot of inspiration of what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Kerr said.

Labbé’s influence extended even further as she led Canada to their second-straight Olympic bronze medal in 2016 and historic gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. At the club level, she won the NWSL championship and NWSL Shield in 2019 with the North Carolina Courage.

On Jan. 19, the 2022 FIFA Best Goalkeeper finalist announced her retirement from soccer. And on Friday, Labbé will play in her final game with Canada during a Celebration Tour friendly against Nigeria in Vancouver.

“She’s been an absolutely unbelievable teammate for Canada and around the world,” said Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.

Thirteen years after Kerr watched Labbé in training camp, as her career winds down, the goalkeeper’s confidence hasn’t waned.

In Tokyo, Labbé led Canada through shootouts in the quarterfinal and final despite suffering a rib injury in the first group match of the tournament against Japan. Before leaving that game, she bounced to her feet to stand in for a penalty kick, which she saved.

After missing the second game against Chile, Labbé did everything possible to get back on the field for the rest of the Olympics, posting shutouts against Brazil and the U.S.

“She pulls off a big save, and I think the whole team then was lifted, so for me, she was critical to the gold medal,” Priestman said.

Ahead of the gold-medal shootout against Sweden, Priestman huddled her players together and said, “Listen, Steph did it before. She’ll do it again.”

“Big players rise in big moments, and I knew she had it in her,” Priestman said.

In possession, Labbé is expertly tactical. Her composure on the ball and calming approach in communication have helped young center backs like Vanessa Gilles (16 caps) make a smooth transition onto the national team.

“Steph, especially, is one of the best leaders that I’ve ever been around and is just able to bring confidence to the rest of the team,” said Gilles. “I think that’s a quality that’s very rare and hard to train. We have a lot of great leaders here in Canada, and Steph is one of the greats, for sure.”

Much of Labbé’s leadership is heard.

During games, after starting lineup photos and the kickoff coin toss, she is known to gather her Canadian teammates in a huddle and give them a rah-rah speech. In meetings, where the national team builds its culture and hones its vision, Labbé is one of the most vocal contributors.

“One of my favorite teammates, one of the best goalkeepers that we’ve had for Canada,” said defensive midfielder Desiree Scott. “I think just to see her growth over the last four to eight years, you just see her coming into her own. She’s fully herself.”

“She’s played such a huge role for this team and has kept us in so many games and helped us win so many games,” said forward Nichelle Prince. “Her leadership off the field is something that has gotten us to the top.”

Priestman hopes to see Labbé’s mental strength live on as Canada moves into Concacaf qualifying for next summer’s World Cup. Sheridan will take the reins in net alongside Erin McLeod.

“[Steph’s] just been such a mentor to me and a lot of the other goalkeepers here,” said Sheridan. “We’re so excited to celebrate her this weekend, and honestly, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

When Sheridan reflects on what she’s learned from Labbé, being a good teammate is the first thing that comes to mind. The team’s open communication on the field starts with the goalkeepers, and Labbé set the best kind of example.

Labbé told Priestman on a phone call ahead of the upcoming friendlies that she doesn’t want the Celebration Tour weekend to be about her. So, Priestman filled her in on the vision for camp and how Labbé can help drive the team’s culture forward. Canada is taking a blank-slate approach with its 2023 World Cup preparations, focusing on evaluating new talent and assembling an offensive-minded team.

Kerr, who watched Labbé from the back of her dad’s truck 13 years ago, is one of the top goalkeepers on Priestman’s radar. Kerr was in Arizona training in the offseason when she saw Labbé’s retirement announcement in the news. An hour after Priestman did a press conference, Kerr got the call that she was being invited to camp.

Labbé, ever vocal about creating more opportunities for women athletes, intends to push for the creation of a professional women’s soccer league in Canada in retirement.

“She’s trailblazing a path for up-and-coming goalkeepers to come into a place that feels welcoming and safe and really productive,” Kerr said.

“I feel so ready to be excited at this point in my life about what’s next, what’s after my soccer career,” Labbé said in a video on Thursday. “I really feel like I’ve given everything on the field. I’ve given everything that I can. Blood, sweat and tears.”

Labbé’s farewell match will take place one province over from her hometown of Edmonton, at BC Place in Vancouver, where she’ll inspire the next generation from the field one last time.

“We want her to go out on the highest of highs that we possibly can, and we want BC Place to be screaming her name for 90 minutes straight,” Sheridan said.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.