Alyssa Naeher Has Put the USWNT on Her Back

Long established as the best American goalkeeper of her generation, 35-year-old Alyssa Naeher seems to only keep getting better.

In the world of sports, flash almost always outshines grit. And that’s really not a surprise, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. In general, step-overs and banger goals are much more entertaining to watch than hustle plays or clutch slide tackles.

If we wanted to look at a case study, let’s go back to the 2019 Women’s World Cup. For most United States women’s national team fans, the first images that come to mind are most likely a pair of goal celebrations — Megan Rapinoe’s statue-esque pose or Alex Morgan’s pinky-up sip of tea.

megan rapinoe goal celebration

alex morgan goal celebration

These snapshots — both coming after sensational goals in important moments — have rightfully remained burned into the memories of fans both casual and die-hard. Further down the list of USWNT moments and images include the generational midfield of Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, and Sam Mewis, Crystal Dunn’s incredible versatility, or the 13-0 blowout of Thailand in the group stage.

But there was one particular moment — in the same match where Morgan sipped on English tears — that has perhaps been outshone in favor of these flashier highlights. And it’s as gritty as they come.

@uswnt.soccer_1 Alyssa Naeher’s amazing penalty save against England #alyssanaeher #uswnt #soccer #alexmorgan #julieertz #kelleyohara #abbydahlkemper #worldcup ♬ original sound – USWNT Soccer Fan

In the 80th minute of the United States’ semifinal match against England, Lioness captain Steph Houghton walked up to the penalty marker, looking to even the score at 2-2. The only thing standing in her way was USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

Naeher came out of the showdown the victor, correctly guessing Houghton’s direction and smothering the shot with perceived ease. It was a massive momentum swing in a nervy match that up to that point could’ve gone either way.

The highlight of Naeher’s career up to that point, the save solidified her spot in USWNT history. Without it, there’s a good chance the U.S. crest would have one less star on it.

Four years later, Naeher would have another “canon event,” although this one would be on the other end of the agony-joy spectrum.

The USWNT had limped into the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and the team was far from the juggernaut it had been in years past. These struggles had been put fully under the microscope in the round of 16 matchup against Sweden, which ended in a heartbreaking loss in penalties.

Naeher was centimeters away from saving the deciding penalty kick, which needed VAR confirmation before the final call was made.

Since then, Naeher seems to have refused to lose another match in penalties, rising to the occasion in back-to-back USWNT title matches: the W Gold Cup final and SheBelieves Cup final. But her put-the-team-on-her-back performances go beyond just saving penalties (which she did in abundance) — she was taking them too.

In the two title-deciding shootouts, Naeher was the third penalty taker, and calmly rocketed in both of her attempts. Most goalkeepers will tell you how good they are at taking penalty kicks, as it’s a big part of what they do in practice. But Naeher had the rare chance to put her money where her mouth is, twice. Goalkeepers are usually near the last option when it comes to penalties, but Naeher appeared to be the most capable taker on the team. Both her attempts were were decisive, firm, and surgical.

She was not about to go down like she did in Melbourne, and literally took things into her own hands. The pair of performances were among some of the most dominant from a goalkeeper you’ll ever see.

Naeher is the perfect personification of grit, and when paired with her lighting quick reaction time, unquestionable leadership ability, and uncut tenacity, it makes her the ideal No. 1. After a dip in form in club team play, there were some questions as to whether Naeher’s time as the starting keeper were dwindling. But her most recent performances are more than enough to silence any doubt.

When it comes to the greatest USWNT goalkeeper of all time, Brianna Scurry and Hope Solo are still at the top. But Naeher has rightfully entered the conversation. Overlook her at your own peril.

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