NEW YORK — Kailen Sheridan’s importance for Sky Blue FC cannot be understated.
In an inconsistent season for the team, the goalkeeper has been perhaps its most consistent performer. She ranks first in the league in save percentage and has made the NWSL Team of the Month twice; a definition of reliability for her teammates.
“I haven’t played with a goalkeeper that good in a very long time,” Sky Blue defender Estelle Johnson said after the team’s 1-0 loss to the Washington Spirit in July. “Just having her back there — the communication on top of the way she plays — it makes us feel very secure and able to play.”
Sheridan, 24, is in the midst of a standout season individually, coupling her strong performances for Sky Blue with a trip to the women’s World Cup as one of Canada’s three goalkeepers. Along the way, she’s had — as she calls it — “the opportunity to grow” as not only a goalkeeper, but as a leader.
“I think [my performances] have been pretty decent,” Sheridan told Pro Soccer USA. “There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement in certain areas, but I also think that I’ve taken steps forward in my three years in the league, and especially with this club. [I’ve] learned a lot and been able to apply what I’ve learned and not make the same mistakes as maybe as a rookie.”
Since Sheridan was drafted by Sky Blue in 2017, the team’s various ins and outs, and its high roster turnover, make her one its longest tenured players. As a result, she’s quickly becoming one of Sky Blue’s veterans and it has naturally impacted her outlook on the field.
“I think it definitely gives me more experience to draw from,” she said. “I’ve been able to play so much and learn from the mistakes that I’ve made… I think [it] also creates a bigger opportunity for me to become a leader on and off the field, just knowing the team and the dynamic.”
In the opinion of both Johnson and veteran Carli Lloyd, Sheridan seems to be filling in the leadership role well so far. The United States’ co-captain described her as “a leader on and off the field” following that loss to the Spirit, adding that “she wants to win and she’s competitive.”
“It’s great to have her there,” Lloyd said.
In addition to leading Sky Blue on the field, Sheridan has been notably vocal about the team’s off-field issues. During the offseason, she advocated for better working and living conditions in a conference call with the club’s owners, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, former Bed Bath & Beyond CEO Steve Temares, and club founder Thomas Hofstetter. Sheridan has been pleased with the progress made since, including the work Alyse LaHue has done as interim general manager, describing her as “somebody that we could really trust and work with.”
Still, the situation impacted the way she conducted herself around her teammates, saying she would “try and also work to hold a standard.”
“With [coaches] outside of Sky Blue, inside of Sky Blue, I’ve had the conversation where this is a good opportunity for me to grow both on and off the field, and take on those roles of holding standards,” Sheridan said.
Her work was all with the aim “to make sure that this doesn’t keep happening in the future and that we only go up, we stop going backwards.”
Sheridan’s leadership and goalkeeping abilities naturally find a place to pair up in training and during matches, an area where Sky Blue has been particularly unsuccessful both this year and last. It has led her to push her teammates, much as she pushed the ownership several months ago.
“I think sometimes it’s better if we just show instead of talk [in training sessions],” Sheridan said. “I think when you talk and you’re still not getting good results, it creates a bit of frustration… I think that the more that you push each other physically and and just [give] a reason and a guidance without actually having to say anything, it’s the biggest change.”
“She’s the same off the field as she is on,” Johnson said. “Just a leader through and through.”
Sheridan views on-field improvement as essential to matching Sky Blue’s developments off it. Against the Spirit, the team played in front of a sold out crowd, and its match against Reign FC on Aug. 18 is set to host another sell out.
“It’s insanely uplifting to see the traction that we’re getting,” she said. “We want to be able to give them what they’re really coming for, which is those three points and that excitement in the 90 minutes… We have to be kicking our asses in training to give them that performance and to give them that opportunity to see us win those three points and to feel proud, to feel like they’re part of something that feels like this is their team that they can support.”
Quality key to keep NWSL’s World Cup boost
For Sheridan, having people enjoy what they see on the field will be essential in maintaining the apparent boost the NWSL is enjoying after a popular World Cup. Sheridan called the second edition of the women’s International Champions Cup “extremely exciting” for combining the interest with quality, and believes those involved with the NWSL need to emphasize the same.
“What the NWSL does a really good job of creating is competition in every single team, no matter what game it is,” Sheridan said. “That’s what you see more of and I think having people buy into this league and creating more teams so that we can have more of those amazing performances which draw people… I think it just needs to keep being promoted.”
Sheridan shared that the Sky Blue locker room has not discussed the topic of the post-World Cup attention much, but noted that the players in the league are naturally dedicated to the cause of continuing its competitiveness.
“I don’t think it necessarily needs to be talked about,” she said. “I think if you’re in this league, you have that inner competitive edge where everything is driving to win or to compete or be better. If we can just maintain that by growing the league and having more players like that, it’ll create that competitive atmosphere all the time.”
That level of competition is why, for her, NWSL even has the potential for success in the first place.
“Some of the best players are in this league,” Sheridan said. “And that’s why it draws what it draws, why it’s growing, and why we need to keep growing it.”