Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Canadians Stephanie Labbé and Shelina Zadorsky for an exclusive interview about their second year with the Washington Spirit as professional soccer players in the National Women’s Soccer League.
This year, Spirit head coach Jim Gabarra has implemented multiple systems of play. At least one of them features a three-back defensive line versus a more traditional four-back defensive line. I asked Labbé and Zadorsky their thoughts on this system.
Labbé said, “I think the four-back is more natural. I think growing up that’s what we play all through the youth systems. I think that the three-back, it’s a new system. If you tactically have the right coaching and can really structurally break it down and be efficient in it, I think the three-back is a great tool to have. You have to have the right players that can fit the positions of that. Defensively the four-back is much more natural to so many people. Your instincts just go with it a lot better so it is easier to play.”
Regarding their personal life while here in Montgomery County, both are into yoga and meditation and they try to attend classes when time allows. Labbé’s favorite activity is going hiking with her dog Rio because there are so many places to explore in the area.
A portion of their time is allocated by the team to work with youth league teams in the area. The list of youth leagues working with the Spirit grows constantly. They said more than once how much they like working with the youth teams and how much fun it is.
Favorite hangouts for them are the RIO Center and Downtown Crown areas, because they serve as great middle ground to meet up with other team members, many of whom live in Bethesda.
When asked about the team camaraderie, Labbé and Zadorsky commented on how the team was gelling together nicely, considering all the new additions to the team and the fluctuating list of injured players.
Off the field, Labbé and Zadorsky said the rookies tended to stick together and do their own thing but everyone is getting along and getting to know one another as the season progresses.
I asked them if homesickness was an issue for either of them. Labbé answered “We are both family-oriented. We miss the ones we love but with today’s technology like Facetime and Skype we get to stay in touch better with people back home.”
Zadorsky commented that they get more “people-sick” than anything, missing the personal contact with those back home they love. Zadorsky enjoys any occasion to video-chat with her family and seeing her baby nephew.
Labbé and Zadorsky were shown two photographs featuring them in different plays. The first photo showed a familiar scene: Zadorsky holding back the progress of an opposing player while Labbé went for a grip on the ball. When watching matches I often see this strategy of Zadorsky shutting down opportunities in tight quarters with Labbé, protecting Labbé who is doing something daring to win possession of the ball.
In response to the photo, Labbé said, “That one is for sure normal. Anytime I am coming down, she (Zadorsky) is just shielding it, shielding the ball so I have a clear route to the ball at the same time making sure I can be successful at doing what I am doing. If she were to just stand there and let that player come run in and kick me, I think everybody would look at Shelina and say ‘What the ____ were you doing?’”
The second photo showed Labbé and Zadorsky looking at an opposing player lying on the field who had just been knocked to the ground by Labbé. As I displayed the photo to them, both started to chuckle and gave each other that all-knowing inside joke secret look.
Labbé said, “We were both thinking, ‘Come on, get up, don’t be dramatic.’”
Zadorsky said she was also thinking, “Yeah, you’re okay, you’re fine, get up.”
And then more laughs.
Also in that photo is a great example of Zadorsky’s stare of intimidation. I feel certain that glare gets inside other players’ heads. It must be really aggravating for an opposing player when she gives them the stare down and then makes the hand motion of “come over here” just before she lets loose with a very physical pass to a fellow Spirit player. If you’ve been to a match, you know the taunt.
This past weekend the Spirit played a match against the Chicago Red Stars, the number two team in league standings. Until the last 15 minutes of the match it looked like the Spirit were going to win. A penalty kick awarded to Red Stars’ Christen Press allowed them to put one goal on the board, equalizing the game at 1 all. Both teams picked up one point in the standings, moving the Spirit into eighth place.
The Spirit’s next home game will be Saturday June 24th at 7:00 p.m. on Maureen Hendricks Field in Boyds.