The first thing Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé wants to do following her retirement from professional soccer is travel across the country that made her gold medal dream come true. And she’ll do it in the form of giving back.

Labbé, who played her final game with the Canadian national team on April 8 and was an integral part of the team’s run to Olympic gold in Tokyo last summer, announced Wednesday her plans to run an eight-week camp this summer in all the provinces.

“I remember being young and going to soccer camps and I remember how powerful they were,” Labbé said.

The camps allowed her to work on her game, but also to meet new friends and create memories, and she wants other kids to have that same experience. The difference for the next generation of Canadian women’s soccer players is that they have the country’s first gold medal as inspiration, and the players who were responsible for it as role models.

“What we were able to achieve last summer was so incredibly special that I want to be able to go around and share that gold medal with all these kids and inspire them because I know how powerful that can be,” Labbé said. “It’s one thing to watch us on an online stream, or on TV if they’re lucky, but it’s another thing to meet somebody in person.”

The camps are open to all genders, and both goalkeepers and players. Clubs can apply to host the events at dates that have been set for each province.

While she runs the camps, Labbé will continue to attend meetings as part of a committee that’s working to bring a professional women’s soccer league to Canada.

“There’s no time better than now, and we’ve proven and proven on the world stage that this country is a soccer country,” she said. “We can’t forget what the women have done the past 12 years, and that this team deserves nothing but to have a professional league here.”

For Labbé, launching a domestic league takes precedent over expanding the NWSL into Canada. One or two NWSL clubs will benefit only a small percentage of the best players, she says, while a league could enable more developmental opportunities across Canada.

Until the league becomes a reality, Labbé will be on the ground this summer, doing the grassroots work for the future of women’s soccer in Canada.

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

The Canadian women’s national soccer team took care of business against Nigeria on Friday, taking the match 2-0 on a night of celebration.

Prior to the match, Christine Sinclair was celebrated for becoming the all-time international leading goalscorer. She notched a record-breaking 185th goal during the 23rd minute of Canada’s opening match at the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifiers in January 2020. She has since built on that lead, reaching the 187-goal mark during the Olympics.

“We had a lot to celebrate tonight,” Sinclair said after the match. “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

After a scoreless first half, the defending Olympic gold medalists took control in the second.

Jessie Fleming scored first for Canada in the 51st minute before Vanessa Gilles notched the safety goal off a Janine Beckie corner kick in the 72nd minute.

The team also celebrated the retirement of Stephanie Labbé, who made a key save in the 28th minute to keep the score tied at zero. Through 46 minutes, the goalkeeper refused to let one past her, helping the team secure the clean sheet.

She was later met with a standing ovation as she departed the pitch for the final time with the Canadian national team.

“To get that opportunity one last time, it always feels good, it’s always an honor to put on this jersey and to do it with my best friends around me and celebrate this moment with this incredible crowd here and my family and friends here, it was very special,” Labbé said.

“I feel very fortunate that I’ve had this opportunity,” she continued. “I know not all players get this chance so I feel very fortunate to celebrate this moment with everyone that’s close to me and the country that’s supported me so much.”

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.

Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé will retire in the spring, following an international friendly with the Canadian national team.

Labbé announced the news on Wednesday in a video posted to social media in conjunction with CBC Sports.

“Soccer showed me my purpose,” she said. “Representing Canada showed me that deep down inside, it wasn’t always about kicking a soccer ball. It wasn’t always about making the position of goalkeeper completely my own or mastering penalty shots.

“In recent months, I have felt both the weight and the lightness of what soccer has given me, and what I have given back. I poured my heart and soul into this sport.

“And now I have found clarity and peacefulness in knowing that I have left everything on the field.”

Nicknamed “Canada’s national minister of defense,” Labbé was a crucial part of Canada’s gold-medal run at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. In the penalty shootout against Sweden in the final, the 35-year-old made two key stops to lift Canada to gold.

“The leadership, performances and confidence we saw from Steph this summer demonstrates the impact she has on Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team,” said Bev Priestman, head coach of the Canadian women’s national team. “I can’t think of a better way to go out after such dedication to the program than with the world class performances we consistently saw from her on the biggest stage possible to win this country a Gold Medal.

“I know Steph is ready to move onto the next phase of her life and on behalf of the team and Canada Soccer would like to thank Steph for her tireless commitment and what she has done for this country, she will be greatly missed.”

Throughout her 14 year senior team career, the goalkeeper earned 85 caps with the national team, recording 44 clean sheets. She has been a member of three FIFA Women’s World Cup teams and also won Olympic bronze in 2016.

While bouncing around the professional ranks, Labbé spent some time in the NWSL with the Washington Spirit and the North Carolina Courage. She won the NWSL Championship with the Courage in 2019.

More recently, Labbé was a member of Paris Saint-Germain. She said she made the decision to retire in late November and left PSG after the winter break.