Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé surprises by announcing retirement plans

Stephanie Labbé, whose safe hands helped Canada to Olympic women’s soccer gold in Tokyo last summer, has announced her retirement.

The shock news comes just twodays after Labbé finished runner-up for The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper.

The 35-year-old from Stony Plain, Alta., who started the season with Sweden’s FC Rosengard before transferring to Paris Saint-Germain in late August, was beaten out for the FIFA award by Chile’s Christiane Endler (Paris Saint-Germain/Olympique Lyonnais).

Labbé says she has left PSG and will call it quits this spring after the second half of the Canadian women’s so-called “Celebration Tour.”

“That will be my official sendoff with the national team,” said Labbé, who has won 85 caps for Canada, with 43 clean sheets.

Labbé said she had been thinking about her future for some time, with a decision coming in late November.

“Honestly I woke up one day and it just hit me — I just knew in my heart that it was time,” she said in an interview. “I feel so confident in that, I feel so ready for what’s next.

“I really truly feel at this point that I’ve given everything to the game and I’ve invested my heart and soul into it and I just don’t feel that I have anything left. And I feel so great about that. I really feel like I’ve left everything out there. I couldn’t have asked for a better moment than to have finished my career on an Olympic gold medal and signing for one of the top clubs in the world.”

A rib injury forced Labbé out of Canada’s opening game against host Japan at the Olympics. But she returned after missing one game, albeit playing in pain.

The Canadian No. 1 became an iconic figure in Tokyo — grinning in goal during pressure-packed penalty shootout wins over Brazil and Sweden.

While she still loves the game, Labbé says she no longer felt “that drive to want to go to training in order to really push herself to the maximum.”

“And for me, I’ve never been the type to do things half-ass.”

Plus, a spark was missing. She said the “rush of excitement” stepping on the field was fading.

She leaves the Canadian goal in good hands with Erin McLeod (119 caps), Kailen Sheridan (16) and Sabrina D’Angelo (eight) — with Anna Karpenko, Rylee Foster and Devon Kerr among those waiting in the wings.

“It’s a bright, bright future for this team,” said Labbé. “I have no doubt about that. I’m super-excited to watch them all continue to grow and flourish. And I’m going to be their biggest cheerleader, their biggest support system.”

Labbé has also won praise for opening up about mental health, detailing difficult times in 2012, after the 2016 Rio Olympics and during the Tokyo Games.

In 2012, she stepped away from the national team to focus on her club career rather than stress about her place in the Canadian pecking order. That meant missing the London Olympics, where Canada won bronze.

After winning bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, the Olympic medal began to weigh her down with Labbé feeling people were more interested in it than her. In September 2017, the Washington Spirit announced Labbé was taking a medical leave for the remainder of the NWSL season.

More recently, Labbé said she could not train for part of the Tokyo Games because of “high levels of anxiety and multiple panic attacks.”

She detailed the challenges she faced in a September essay titled “Winning the Olympics isn’t enough to cure mental health” to help publicize FIFPRO’s “Are You Ready To Talk” — a mental health awareness program from the organization representing 65,000 pro footballers worldwide.

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