Canadian keeper Stephanie Labbe joins a men’s league

Stephanie Labbe is taking her career into her own hands — and possibly into a men’s league.

The 31-year-old Canadian women’s team goalkeeper, who has earned 49 caps, announced on her personal blog Monday that she is trying out for Calgary Foothills FC’s men’s under-23 team, which plays in the Premier Development League, a third-tier league behind Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League. The teams are allowed eight players over 23.

It’s an unusual move for a female player, especially one who played at the international level as recently as last week, when she started between the posts for Canada in two matches at the Algarve Cup. When most of her fellow national team members left that tournament to join their National Women’s Soccer League teams in the United States, or to clubs in Europe, Labbe made the move to Calgary. While she hasn’t officially cracked the Foothills’ roster, she considers herself all in.

“I just know that it’s the right fit,” she told the Star on Tuesday.

Labbe spent the last two seasons with the NWSL’s Washington Spirit, but the relationship was not always easy. Labbe lost her starting job in 2016 after helping Canada to bronze at the Rio Olympics. She was replaced again last season after starting the team’s first 16 games. Labbe, who has been candid about her struggles with depression, announced in September that she would miss the remainder of the season due to a medical leave of absence, at the time calling it a decision made “with great difficulty.” The Spirit held onto the goalkeeper’s NWSL rights until mid-February.

Labbe was unable to join to any other NWSL clubs until then and, though she had played five years in Sweden earlier, she didn’t feel going back to Europe was the right move. So she got on the phone last fall, looking for a men’s program that might be willing to take her on.

Some of the reactions, Labbe said, were “what you might expect” when it comes to a woman interested in testing herself in the men’s game. But Labbe was asking to be judged on her skill, not her gender.

“I’m not a female soccer player, I’m just a soccer player,” she said.