Amid Storm, Wave Goalkeeper Sheridan Aims to be the ‘Calming Force in the Back’

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan made a flying save in the second half against her former team last week. Photo by Chris Stone

Standing at the edge of a whirlwind of action in each match, San Diego Wave goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan feels she must be the calm center that keeps her team in balance.

An Olympic gold medal winner in soccer for her native Canada, she knows there is much more to the position that keeping her eye on the ball.

Sheridan had four saves in last week’s home match against her former team, NJ/NY Gotham. Sheridan had a clean slate. And that, matched with Alex Morgan’s four goals, made for an impressive 4-0 season home opener win.

“It’s just being that calming force in the back, no matter what the score is,” said Sheridan, 26, before training this week.

She admits it’s no easy task.

Kailen Sheridan leads the Wave onto the pitch. Photo by Chris Stone

“It’s just being patient and being composed, I think,” said Sheridan, born July 16, 1995, in Pickering, a Toronto suburb in southern Ontario. “Sometimes you don’t see the ball for a long period of time, but you’re constantly having to be in positioning that will, you know, be effective if the ball does come your way.”

She says a keeper needs certain qualities: Being really engaged and in focus, “but also being patient enough to just have your emotions on an even keel.”

A psychology major at the University of Clemson, Sheridan says it’s easy for a goalkeeper to get wrapped in the ball’s location and miss what’s going on around her.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan clears the ball before opponents can threaten. Photo by Chris Stone

“And at the end of the day, the ball doesn’t move itself, right?” said the 5-foot-9-inch player. “So you have to be really mentally engaged the whole time. I think that’s one of the hardest pieces.”

Like other members on the expansion NWSL team, Sheridan shows humility and gives credit to her teammates and coaches.

“It’s just an amazing club,” she said.

The Wave’s head coach isn’t so modest. On Friday, Casey Stoney called Sheridan “probably the best goalkeeper in the world.”

Sheridan recognizes the dynamic of the game where goalkeepers can be seen as a “hero or a villain,” depending on ability to keep the ball out of the net in a given game.

“It’s just a wild roller coaster to live on,” she said. “And you can’t you can’t live like that.”

Her role is a work in progress, always, she said.

“I think you’re always learning and growing and the pressures change, and they still make it difficult. It’s not an easy thing to handle,” she said. “I don’t want to ever say that one day you’ll figure it out because I don’t think you will.”

Sheridan hails the “amazing” people in her corner who she can rely on to become mentally strong and bounce back “because at the end of the day, sometimes it’s hard to do it by yourself.”

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan had four saves against her former team, NJ/NY Gotham. Photo by Chris Stone

Teammates and staff inspire more faith and trust in herself.

Sheridan came to the Wave in December from Gotham, where she played for five years. The East Coast team traded the rights to her in exchange for $130,000 in allocation money and protection in the then-upcoming National Women’s Soccer League expansion draft.

Sheridan made 91 appearances for Gotham and was voted the 2020 Challenge Cup Golden Glove winner. She finished the 2021 regular season with an 84.4 save percentage and six shutouts, earning a place on the 2021 NWSL Best XI.

Upon the trade, interim Gotham general manager Yael Averbuch West called Sheridan a “phenomenal goalkeeper” but one who had expressed interest in “pursuing other professional opportunities.”

NorthJersey.com reported that Gotham, once called Sky Blue FC, was plagued by reports of poor management, substandard housing and “woeful training facilities for its players.”

Has San Diego been a good match?

“It was definitely the right decision,” Sheridan said. “And I’m really excited about this opportunity to work with San Diego and with Casey and all the staff here.”

Sheridan said that after five years with Gotham, she needed an opportunity to get out of her comfort zone.

“Given the changes that were happening around soccer, and in my life… I think this was just the right time to take a leap and really challenge myself.”

Kailen Sheridan communicates with SD Wave defenders. Photo by Chris Stone

She also liked being on the ground floor of an expansion club. She added that she wanted to work with Stoney, who led women’s Manchester United in England.

Her father, Matthew, started developing her athletic skills. Her parents placed the 5-year-old girl in soccer because she was shy and needed more socialization.

Reminded of that, Sheridan laughs. She says she’s emerged from her shyness.

“Yeah, I’ve worked on that quite a bit. And I think that’s not really my issue,” she said, now labeling herself as “more outgoing and extroverted towards people. I think I also can be introverted, but definitely more socially adept.”

As a child, Sheridan competed in soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming and triathlon.

Her parents played sports in high school, and her father later became an Ironman triathlete, who trains continually.

“He’s quite the athlete,” she said. “I think we had this like, competitive rivalry between us like, who was training harder? It just helped me become a better athlete.”

She loved the water so much and may have been a competitive swimmer if excelling at soccer hadn’t been such a passion.

Kailen Sheridan must have laser focus on the ball and her surroundings at all times. Photo by Chris Stone

Her passion took her to joining the Canadian senior national team at the 2016 Algarve Cup and was selected as an alternate for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

She calls her second Olympic experience last year “indescribable. It’s just one of the highest moments you’ll achieve.”

On the podium for the gold medal, she recalls remembering all of the experiences that led to the victory.

“You remember all the trials that you went through to just overcome them,” Sheridan said. “And as a group, you just can’t ask for a better group of people that I was with on that podium.”

She was amazed by the support she received from teammates after injuring her leg before her Olympic opportunity, she said. Fellow players gave encouragement every step of the way on an accelerated 75-day rehabilitation, well ahead of the 98-day projection.

Now with the retirement of Stephanie Labbé, Canada’s top goalkeeper, the forecast is that Sheridan will fill that position.

“I try not to think about too many expectations,” she said. “But I know that for myself, that’s my goal, and I’m just gonna do whatever it takes to achieve that.”

Including the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023?

“Absolutely,” she said. “Right now we’re thinking about qualifying first, and then we’ll switch our focus. But first things first, we got to get there and we got to qualify.”

For now, Sheridan will focus intensely on her new team, with two wins and no losses or ties.

“As a team, our goal is to win the league and you know, (even though) a new team coming in has a really low percentage chance,” Sheridan said. “And people really underestimate us. But I’m really confident in this group. And that’s still going to be our goal.”

Adapting is one of her biggest challenges now — to new players, new defenders and a new part of the country.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan greets the crowd after the match. Photo by Chris Stone

Calling New York and New Jersey a “very high intensity, emotional places,” she is trying to adapt to the “calm and relaxed” culture of Southern California.

But she thinks slowing herself down, taking it a day or match at a time, is good for her and is looking forward to this lifestyle for years to come. San Diego is a great place to live, she believes.

“We’re also looking at the long run of this team,” she said. “And I think it’s going to be one of those clubs that has a legacy and really builds the culture around the city.”

She calls her teammates “super humble. And that really helps. I think we have already kind of developed trust within each other. And that’s one of the biggest things you need on the field, but it also creates a really good environmental field.”

When she starting out in soccer, she had thoughts of being a forward.

“I mean, it’s cool and awesome to be a striker, but I think I found my calling,” she figures. “(Superstar Alex Morgan is) definitely better than I probably ever would have been. So I’m happy to be in the back. I’m happy to have her at the front.”

Her goal and that of her teammates is to improve with each match.

“I think, personally, I just want to be the best I can every day, and the best I can be for this team and for Canada,” Sheridan concluded. “And ultimately, if that gets me the World Cup … and the Olympic gold medal again, that’s my goal.”

The Wave hosts the Chicago Red Stars at 2 p.m. Sunday at Torero Stadium at the University of San Diego.