Canada goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo was limbering up for Western New York Flash in a NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) match in May when she noticed something was amiss with her left hand. Every time she brought it close to her body to make a save in her pre-match warm-up, she felt pain shoot through it. Having nothing more than a bandage put on it, she went out and played anyway, helping her side record a 5-2 win against Sky Blue FC.

When the left-handed keeper went to have the hand examined, however, she discovered that the injury was far more serious than she could ever have imagined: a broken left wrist. Promptly undergoing surgery, D’Angelo had a pin inserted in her hand and has since made a remarkably rapid recovery, so rapid in fact that less than three months after noticing that she had a problem, she is representing her country at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016. After sitting out her side’s first game, the 23-year-old was between the posts for the second, a 3-1 defeat of Group F rivals Zimbabwe.

“I couldn’t believe it when I picked up the injury,” D'Angelo told FIFA.com after making her Olympic debut against the Africans in Sao Paulo. “Once the doctors said there was a chance, though, I had surgery as quickly as possible and tried to stay positive. As long as there was a chance, I was going to do all I could to make it happen.”

Canada coach John Herdman never doubted D’Angelo would be fit on time, and told her the day before Saturday’s game that she would be coming in to replace the experienced Stephanie Labbe, who was between the posts for the Australia encounter. “I did everything I had to in order to get fully fit, even though it was touch-and-go as to whether I’d make it,” she said. “I had a good support team here, and they helped me get ready.”

A youth international with Canada and a veteran of two FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cups and the 2012 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Japan, Sabrina was monitored on a regular basis by Herdman. Her impressive performances with her New York club led to her getting a call-up for March’s Algarve Cup, where she excelled in wins over Brazil and Belgium.

Positive presence
Voicing his praise for the young custodian in an interview with the news agency The Canadian Press, Canada’s English coach said: “She’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She’s got a real presence on and off the pitch.” At the end of June, barely a month after her injury, he named her in his squad.

The Englishman was only too happy to call on her, especially with Erin McLeod, his first choice at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™, out of action since March due to a knee injury. “Unfortunately, Erin’s injury was far worse than mine,” said D’Angelo. “I at least managed to recover on time, and I’m very grateful for that. It’s not something that always happens.”

Though D’Angelo did not have a busy afternoon against Zimbabwe, she had nothing else on her mind aside from her duties on the pitch. “Any chance you get to play is always worthwhile,” she explained. “It wasn’t your average game because I didn’t have a lot to do, but I had to stay alert. I managed to stay focused the whole time. Unfortunately, I conceded a goal, something I’m not proud about.”

With two wins already to their name, the Canadians face Germany in their final group game in Brasilia on Tuesday. D’Angelo does not yet know if she will be given another opportunity, or if Labbe will come back into the side. As far as she is concerned, just being fit to play is a personal triumph in itself.

Following her country’s painful Women's World Cup quarter-final exit last year on home soil, the keeper is determined to offer all her positive energy to the team as they contemplate the future. “We need to keep looking forward,” she said. “We’ve got a good side, with experienced and younger players, all with the same mindset: to get the top-three finish that eluded us in 2015. I definitely feel it’s going to happen.”