Penn State grad Alyssa Naeher saves best for World Cup semifinals
LYON, France — Alyssa Naeher finally escaped Hope Solo’s shadow with her smothering save of a penalty kick.
Endlessly compared to her controversial predecessor on the U.S. national team, Naeher cemented her legacy when she preserved the United States’ 2-1 semifinal win over England. It was the first penalty save by a U.S. goalkeeper in regulation at the Women’s World Cup.
“Oh my God, Alyssa played absolutely out of her mind, but that is what she does day-in and day-out,” defender Kelley O’Hara said. “I’m proud the world finally got to see that. She proved she’s the best in the world, surely.”
NOT. TO. DAY.
Alyssa Naeher plays hero and denies England's penalty!! 🙅♀️🙅♀️ pic.twitter.com/YMPpZwc8ls
— Onward State (@OnwardState) July 2, 2019
Naeher, a Penn State graduate, has been peppered with questions about Solo in the run-up to the tournament and all through the team’s journey through France. She has been gracious about answering every time — even right after Tuesday night’s match.
“I don’t get wrapped up in the comparisons. I’ve said from the beginning that I just try to be me. My goal every day is just being a better person, better player than I was yesterday,” she said. “It’s not about comparisons. It’s how can I help this team win now in 2019. How can I help this team win a gold medal? That’s my only focus.”
"I felt pretty good going into it, for some reason just did not feel like she was gonna score." 🇺🇸
— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) July 3, 2019
It has been this way since Naeher emerged as the presumptive starter after Solo’s dismissal from the team.
Solo made 202 appearances with the national team with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts. During the 2015 World Cup championship run, she allowed just three goals in seven games with five shutouts. She won two consecutive Golden Glove awards for best goalkeeper.
But she also created controversy, and her contract with the team was terminated after she infamously called Sweden “cowards” for bunkering on defense in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics.
Naeher assumed Solo’s role in the ensuing years, but some criticized U.S. Soccer for relying too heavily on Solo without developing a strong successor.
Naeher has shut out the naysayers by humbly doing her job. Known for being soft-spoken and unshakeable, she does crosswords on gamedays to relax. She made her debut with the senior national team in 2014 and has 52 international caps with 28 shutouts.
She was solid from the start in France. The United States did not concede a goal in the group stage for the first time at a World Cup. Until Spain’s Jennifer Hermoso scored to open the knockout round, the U.S. had not allowed a goal since an April friendly against Australia.
But Naeher’s defining moment came in the 84th minute against England on Tuesday night.
With the United States clinging to its 2-1 lead late, a video review determined Becky Sauerbrunn fouled England’s Ellen White in the penalty area. Naeher was there to envelop England captain Steph Houghton’s shot, helping ensure the U.S. would move on to Sunday’s championship game.
Naeher’s twin sister, Amanda, and her parents celebrated wildly in the seats at Stade de Lyon, and on the field Naeher urged her teammates to focus for the final minutes.
“To come up big in that moment, for her personally, but also for the team, it’s massive,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “It can’t be overstated.”
Note: The U.S.-England semifinal averaged nearly 8 million U.S. viewers. The game was the most-watched English-language soccer telecast in the country since last year’s men’s World Cup final.