Handed the start against the top-ranked U.S. at the SheBelieves Cup, Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan no doubt hoped her 10th cap would be a night to remember.
It was, but sadly for the wrong reason.
Sheridan went down in the seventh minute of the Feb. 18 game, the victim of a freak injury making an innocuous-looking pass to defender Vanessa Gilles.
“It was a tough moment, honestly,” Sheridan recalled. “Less pain and more emotionally of a struggle for me.”
An MRI later revealed that she had torn one of her quad muscles off the bone with about a four-centimetre retraction. Sheridan underwent surgery March 1 to repair her right quad.
The good news is the 25-year-old from Whitby, Ont., is on the mend, posting video of running on a treadmill after getting the green light from her doctor three weeks after surgery. Sheridan is confident she can be back in time for the Tokyo Olympics
“I’m ahead of schedule,” she said in an interview Friday. “But I just have to stick to the course and be patient with it. There’s just some things that we have to wait for in the healing process that I can’t really push the envelope on.
“So right now we’re just in a waiting phase of letting the muscle heal and the tendons come back together so that I can really start to push myself on the field again.”
So is she good at the waiting phase?
“I’m terrible at it,” Sheridan said. “But I have a good support team around me, good doctors and trainers and family, keeping me grounded a little bit and motivated.”
The pass to Gilles was not the first trouble sign that night at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium. Earlier in the game, Sheridan felt a pull in her hip on a left-foot clearance.
“I thought nothing of it. It was just like ‘That felt weird’ and kept going,” she recalled.
She felt a pop on a goal kick several minutes later.
“Again I was like ‘OK, that didn’t feel good at all but I’m going to try and keep going and try and run on it a little bit.’”
But the next time she was called into action, taking a back pass and relaying the ball to Gilles, it went from bad to worse. Sheridan had no idea what had happened.
“I was mostly scared and just unsure of what was going on,” she said. “I had no strength, really lost a lot of feeling.”
As she was helped off by the trainers, the disappointment ran deep.
“That was probably the hardest moment for me. No pain or anything. It was knowing that in that big moment I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t be there for them and couldn’t be the person.”
While Sheridan felt nothing unusual in her leg prior to the tournament, she says such injuries usually are degenerative.
Sheridan consulted several doctors with the consensus that surgery was best. She found a phenomenal” surgeon who was confident that she would be back “within the time frame I wanted to be.”
That includes the Olympic football tournament, scheduled for July 21 to Aug. 7.
“My goal is to back for the Olympics and really compete for it,” she said. “But Ideally I want to come back a little bit before that. But at this point we just have to be patient and take it one day at a time and really make sure that the strength is there.”
But more importantly, Sheridan’s surgeon was confident the operation would assure her longevity in the sport.
Sheridan is entering her fifth season with Sky Blue FC. The New Jersey-based team selected the former Clemson University star — she recorded 28 clean sheets in 76 appearances for the Tigers — with the 23rd overall pick in the 2017 NWSL college draft.
While 2020 was a stop-start season due to the pandemic, Sheridan won the Gold Glove Award as the best ‘keeper in the NWSL Challenge Cup and was named Sky Blue’s MVP of the tournament. She credits the players in front of her for the awards.
Away from the pitch, Sheridan showed she can bust a few moves in a June 2019 video at the World Cup in France, kicking up her heels with the other Canadian ‘keepers to Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel like a Woman!” on the team bus.
“We have a good time. It’s an amazing group of women.” said Sheridan. “I’m honestly blessed to be part of it.”
Dance moves aside, competition in the Canadian goal is fierce.
Stephanie Labbe, who has 75 caps, has been the No. 1 in recent years. Veteran Erin McLeod, who has 118 caps, is the former No. 1 now back in the picture after a string of injuries (she missed the SheBelieves Cup after dislocating a finger in camp but is healthy again).
Sabrina D’Angelo, who has eight caps, was backup to Labbe at the 2016 Olympics where she started in a 3-1 win over Zimbabwe. She was named 2016 NWSL Championship MVP with the Western New York Flash. Now with Sweden’s Vittsjo GIK, she is recovering from knee surgery and is also expected to be back in time for the Olympics.
Uncapped Rylee Foster, who just signed a long-term contract with England’s Liverpool, has been invited to the last two Canada camps.
“We’re so lucky we have such a competitive group that push each other … But we’re also really good friends as well,” said Sheridan. “It helps, being able to push each other but also be able to talk about things and help each other grow.
“We always talk about ‘If you’re growing, then it’s going to push me to be better.’ And that’s ultimately what we want to be.”
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press