Alyssa Naeher’s journey to starting goalkeeper of the United States Women’s National team wasn’t easy. It wasn’t until 2016 when she was named the starter after she was the backup behind Hope Solo in the USWNT’s last World Cup. Her difficult journey is what made yesterday’s moment even sweeter.
Coming into the semi-final, Naeher had yet to set her mark on this tournament. From the outside looking in, there was criticism regarding Naeher’s play in net. To add fuel to the fire, Naeher’s performance against Spain was reason to doubt her. An ill-advised pass to Becky Sauerbrunn led to Spain’s only goal. A mistake like that could cost a team the World Cup. Luckily for her, it didn’t, however, what it did for her was add more weight on her shoulders.
All along if you followed the USWNT you knew the criticism she received was harsh as she’s been a stellar shot stopper since taking over. However, as the semi-final match went on, if there still was any doubt, that doubt was turned into praise as she did something incredible in net yesterday.
But first, it would be unjust to not bring up her first big save. Right after the USWNT went up 2-1, England came storming back. Naeher made a big time save on England’s Kiera Walsh, diving to her left and saving the far-post bound shot with her outstretched arms. We thought that was the moment for her this tournament, but boy were we wrong.
In the 81st minute, England’s Ellen White was taken down in the box by Becky Sauerbrunn. At first this decision was not given, but after a long VAR pause, the ultimate form of bad luck hit the USWNT. For a brief moment, England thought they were going to tie the game and the USWNT started to prepare for an eventual push for a winner. But then, it happened.
Naeher had just set her mark on the World Cup and set her name in stone. Without a doubt that penalty kick save will go down as one of the best moments in USWNT history, especially if they win this World Cup. You couldn’t write something better than that. The weight added to her shoulders after her Spain blunder was lifted, it was her time to shine.
The journey to the top is never easy but for Naeher, she’s on top of the soccer world right now and until Sunday, she should enjoy it - for now. In a way, what we witnessed was a career defining play for Naeher. In net, any mistake she made is erased and that penalty kick save is now the only think we’ll see. It was truly a remarkable moment.
Like forth noted, moments come and go, but this one will stick around for awhile. But, business is not done and the USWNT still have a lot of work to do. We’ll soon find out who the USWNT will face but both teams bring forth their own challenges. Sweden is obviously a very tough team and the Netherlands are playing really well right now. This moment is one to remember for sure, but the USWNT aren’t done yet.