Val Henderson and Karina LeBlanc: Philadelphia's Dynamic Goalkeeping Duo
The Expansion Philadelphia Independence breezed through the game portion of their preseason schedule with two wins and a tie.
Granted, those two wins came against college level competition, but defending National Champ North Carolina and defending Big 10 Champ Penn State are two of the top college programs in the country.
Philadelphia’s lone tie was against the Washington Freedom, but you should know that both rosters were depleted for that game, due to national and international team duties.
Despite the outcome, the one thing that remained constant in all three games was the number of goals allowed by Philadelphia—ZERO.
Obviously it helps when you have talent at the back four, but it certainly doesn’t hurt having a quality net minder. As a matter of fact, Independence skipper Paul Riley didn’t hesitate when he told me, “We have probably two of the top 10 goal keepers in the world playing for us”.
Those goal keepers are Canadian National team backstop Karina LeBlanc and former UCLA and U.S. National team pool standout Val Henderson. Ironically, both players were teammates last year with the now disbanded Los Angeles SOL.
Philadelphia acquired Henderson from L.A., along with defender Allison Falk, in exchange for the No. 5 and No. 22 picks in the 2010 WPS Draft. LeBlanc was selected in the first round (second overall) of the 2010 Los Angeles Sol Dispersal Draft.
LeBlanc, who recently celebrated her 30th birthday, is clearly one of the leaders on Coach Riley’s roster, as evidenced by her co-captaincy in all three pre-season games.
“Goalkeepers are positioned by nature to lead,” said Karina. “For me, I’m just going to do what I have done all along on every team. I may be more vocal, but we have leaders who lead by their play”.
One thing’s for sure, Karina LeBlanc is engaging and charismatic, and those qualities alone have helped ease the transition for several of her teammates as they settle into their new home here in Philadelphia.
As a matter of fact, LeBlanc and Swedish National Caroline Seger have not only formed a solid friendship, but together have become the team ambassadors.
By the way, that’s not to say there are not other players of personality on the team, because there are plenty. As a matter of fact, I’m very impressed with how fast this team has bonded in the short amount of time they have been together, both on and off the field.
So, while LeBlanc handles the starting keeper chores for the Independence, Henderson finds herself as Karina’s back up for the second year in row. In Val’s case, timing is everything, because up until the Feb. 5 dispersal draft, it appeared that Henderson was slated to be the net minder of choice for Philadelphia.
Last year, while Karina was on assignment with team Canada for a friendly verses the United States, Henderson stepped in net for the SOL and helped shut down F.C. Gold Pride 2-0.
Here’s hoping that Henderson can duplicate the effort should she get the same opportunity this season for the Independence
FYI-Philadelphia’s third goalkeeper is Robyn Jones, who beat out Mallori Lofton-Malachi for the final spot during the preseason. Jones is currently on the Independence's development roster, while Lofton-Malachi was picked up by the expansion Atlanta Beat.
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