Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan has many ambitions that she is pursuing. She wants to win an NWSL title with her club, Sky Blue FC. She wants to become the No. 1 keeper with Canada. She also wants a dog.
“I’ve always had a weird obsession with dogs, and I think it’s because I could never have one. We didn’t have them growing up and I always wanted them,” she said.
For now, her on-the-go lifestyle (at least before COVID-19) means she has had to put pet ownership on hold, but she is working towards her professional dreams. Sheridan is currently in New Jersey, resuming individual workouts with Sky Blue as the NWSL hopes to begin its season in the near future.
“I think right now I’ve just been really focusing on being prepared for when we’re allowed to come back in and doing all the workouts we need to do,” she told TSN.
Sheridan, 24, is preparing for her fourth season with Sky Blue. Her tenure with the club has been tumultuous at times, with Sky Blue finishing near or at the bottom of the league in the past two years, but this upcoming season was looking promising. Newly appointed general manager Alyse LaHue had brought in a surge of new talent, including two-time NWSL champion McCall Zerboni and American international Mallory Pugh, along with a new head coach, Freya Coombe.
“I’m extremely excited,” Sheridan said. “I think when all those changes were made, it put an extra light in the team, and made us more excited than we were coming off of last season... just bringing in a little more experience and star power that we haven’t maybe had in the past.”
Also joining the fold is fellow Canadian Evelyne Viens, who was drafted fifth overall earlier this year. The native of L’ancienne-Lorette, Que.,is coming off an impressive collegiate career with USF, recording 73 goals and 23 assists in 77 appearances, although she is still awaiting her first call-up to the Canadian national team.
“I was extremely excited personally to have another Canadian with me on the team,” Sheridan said. “[She’s] a Canadian we can all see coming through the ranks. She definitely came underneath [the radar] and maybe got bypassed a little bit, but I think that we can build her up at Sky Blue and give her an opportunity to really showcase her abilities.
“She just has an amazing attitude from what I’ve met with her so far – just always wanting to train and learn and get into this environment. It sucks [in] your rookie year not to be able to do that right away in the typical manner, but I know when we get the opportunity she’s definitely ready to show.”
Sheridan is also a draft pick of Sky Blue, selected 23rdoverall in 2017. She has been able to find personal success even while her club has struggled. In 2019, Sky Blue finished second-last, but Sheridan was named as a finalist for NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year (ultimately losing to Washington’s Aubrey Bledsoe). A year earlier, the Canadian set an NWSL record for most saves in a season, while her club finished dead-last with just one win.
“I think that was the year I got to face so many things,” she said. “Maybe from the outside it looks like a really rough year for the team, and for me personally – coming in last and not winning. It doesn’t look like a typical year where you say, ‘Oh, I was successful.’ But I definitely came out of that year thinking that I grew as a goalkeeper and became a better player, just because I got to see so much, face so much, and grow a bigger understanding of the game.
“My journey with Sky Blue is definitely something that nobody could have predicted. I couldn’t have predicted it. I couldn’t have written a better story myself.”
Sheridan has endured some hardships with the club off the field as well. In 2018, an article from The Equalizer revealed substandard training and living conditions that Sky Blue players were forced to withstand, such as not having showers at their training facilities. Sheridan stepped up to advocate for better conditions, addressing the issues in a conference call that included the club’s owners and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy.
“This was not OK, this wasn’t the standard, and it was OK not to be OK with it, even though I felt that maybe I had to be,” Sheridan said. “It just really taught me that in order to make a difference, we did have to speak up. We couldn’t just be quiet. It was maybe a risk that we would have to take, but we had to trust that this risk was worth it, and that we deserved more than we were being given.”
After former general manager Tony Novo resigned in 2019 and was replaced by LaHue, Sheridan said the changes in the team’s living and training conditions have been “night and day.” The club now practises at the Red Bulls Training Facility, furthering a partnership forged with the MLS side during the off-season, when it was announced that all Sky Blue home games will be played at Red Bull Arena.
“We are in amazing accommodations, our training facility – even though I have not been there yet because of this whole pandemic – but from what I’ve heard from the girls and what I’ve seen from the pictures, it’s just phenomenal,” Sheridan said. “If I had a side-by-side, you wouldn’t believe where we were training and where we were living before.... It’s just massive to be able to be at that first year where I was – and see what we had – to see what we have now in just three years.”
Sheridan’s willingness to speak up is just one example of her fearlessness off and on the pitch. This bold display may also be one of the reasons that keepers have the reputation of being a bit odd, something that Sheridan happily admits.
“I think if a goalkeeper answers ‘no’ to that, then they’re lying,” she said with a laugh. “Definitely, I’m crazy. I think we’re all weird and different in a way, but that just kind of makes us the people that we are and the athletes that we are. We’re willing to do the crazy things and push our bodies to limits that we didn’t think that we could or other people didn’t think that we could. You’ve got to be a little crazy to do what we do, but I think at the end of the day, it makes you a better goalkeeper.”
For Sheridan, one of her particular quirks is her koumpounophobia – fear of buttons.
“We can talk about that... let the world know,” Sheridan laughed. “I was pretty young, and I just didn’t want to get put in buttoned clothes. My parents were like, ‘What is wrong with this kid?’ I don’t know what it is. I still just don’t like them. I don’t want to touch them. I don’t want them near me. Nobody knows what happened with the buttons. It’s just one of those things.”
Sheridan, sans buttons, has been a regular on the Canadian roster since earning her first cap in 2016. The native of Whitby, Ont.,has seen some early success, with six clean sheets in nine appearances, and has also forged a strong bond with starting goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé.
“I think one of the best things that she has given me [is] the opportunity to ask me to push her, and allowed me to come in and feel like I can really compete for that spot, and she wants me to,” said Sheridan. “She wants me to come and push her and make her better. That’s just how you know she’s such an amazing person and athlete. She wants to be better. She wants me to give everything that I can give, and if I’m better at the end of the day, she’ll be proud of me, and if she gets better because of me, she’ll be happy.”
Labbé, 33, has hinted in recent interviews that she plans to retire after the now-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, which would open the door for Sheridan as Canada’s No.1 keeper (alongside Sabrina D’Angelo). But despite her personal aspirations, Sheridan wants to be clear:
“Nobody is asking her [Labbé] to leave.... I’m never going to push her to retire, and she’s never going to decide that without feeling completely confident. She is one of those people who completely knows and trusts in her decisions,” she said.
Sheridan is also a mentor in her own right. During her off-seasons in New Jersey, she trains and works at The Keeper Institute, helping to instruct young goalkeepers.
“I do love coaching,” she said. “I think that’s one of the amazing gifts you can give back when you’re at such a high level, because you have the knowledge and the ability. Being able to work with kids and give back is a really good thing for me to be able to do, and I feel really passionate about it.”