Will Alyssa Naeher Take Over as USWNT's No. 1?
September 12, 2016
WHEN THE United States women’s national team takes on Thailand this Thursday night (8pm ET, ESPN2) in its first match since being knocked out of the Olympics last month, U.S. fans won’t have to worry about learning any new faces.
That’s because U.S. head coach Jill Ellis has only called in players from her Olympic roster for this match and the clash against the Netherlands four days later (7pm ET, FS1).
There will, however, be one notable change to Ellis’ usual starting XI, with goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher expected to win the job as the U.S.’ new No. 1 in the net.
Still, Naeher isn’t taking anything for granted.
“For me, it’s just going to be a mindset of showing up on the field every day. I’m not the one who makes [those] decisions, those are coach’s decisions—who plays, who doesn’t play,” Naeher told American Soccer Now. “The only thing I can control is my work rate, my effort on the field.
“That’s what my focus has to be going into the camp—having my mind right, putting myself in a good, competitive [frame of mind] to earn as much playing time as I can at this point. The mindset is just staying that way, working hard, keeping my head down, being there, pushing myself, pushing my teammates, and trying to get better.”
Those who don’t follow the National Women’s Soccer League with any regularity might not be all that familiar with Naeher, or just how well she has played the past few seasons at the club level. This year, despite missing several matches due to her national team commitments, she’s tied for the league lead in shutouts, has an impressive 1.00 goals against average, and won NWSL Player of the Month honors in May. In 2014, she won Goalkeeper of the Year honors and she also has experience overseas, leading Turbine Potsdam to a Bundesliga title in 2012.
For years, Naeher toiled away in Boston for a team that often finished at or near the bottom of the league. And while many regarded the 28-year-old as one of the league’s top talents, playing on a losing squad kept her largely in the shadows.
Then, this winter, came a move to Chicago. After exiting the NWSL playoffs in last year’s semifinals, Chicago Red Stars’ head coach Rory Dames immediately decided he needed to improve his team’s goalkeeping options. After consulting his two other national team players, the coach began working to bring Naeher to the Windy City.
“When we went out in the playoffs last year, we targeted a No. 1 [goalkeeper] right away,” said Dames. “Julie [Johnston] and Christen [Press] both said this is the one we had to go get, so we worked really hard to bring [Alyssa] here. You can see why.”
Naeher didn’t expect to leave Boston but concedes it has worked out well for all involved.
“It caught me by surprise a little bit when it happened," Naeher said. "I think that Boston is making decisions that they needed to make to put different pieces in place to build the team that they wanted.
“It worked out well for me, if I wasn’t going to be in Boston, to at least get put in a good situation for me—to be put with a young team, a competitive team, to be in a new environment, to take me outside of my comfort zone. Being in Boston for five years, you get into a rhythm. I think it’s good to get thrown outside of your comfort zone a bit to push you to keep growing. I’m appreciative of that.”
The Penn State alumna added that she’s also enjoying being in the thick of a playoff race again and that her U.S. teammates in Chicago have helped bring her game to another level.
“This year, to be at the end of the season in a playoff race—it’s been since my rookie season in Boston that I’ve been in a playoff hunt toward the end of the season. This team has been committed to that all season—saying that’s a goal of ours,” said Naeher.
“To continue to play with Julie [Johnston] and keep that relationship and chemistry going, and hopefully build that into the next level, getting to have Christen Press shooting on me every day [in practice] is only going to make me a better player, a better goalkeeper. Having those two here has been really, really helpful for me this year, so I’m definitely appreciative of them.”
Looking ahead, the Connecticut native stressed the importance of pushing herself each and every day, whether that’s with Chicago, or the national team.
“I try to keep the same mindset whether it’s here [in Chicago], and I’m playing week-in and week-out, [or] in camp [with the national team]. You have to have that mindset to show up every day, regardless [of whether] I’m going to play or get minutes,” she said.
The keeper also argued that many of the national team players are now in need of a break after a long two-year stretch between the World Cup and Olympics.
“We’ve been on the road a lot, we’ve been away a lot, we’ve been training a lot, not much off time. On the front end of it, it’s going to be good for people to step away for a little bit and let your body completely recover, mentally, physically, [and] emotionally,” said Naeher.
“With it being three years [until the next major tournament], you have that time. You’re not necessarily pushing for something coming up in the summer. I think that’s going to be the first step, especially for people who’ve been [on the national team] the past couple years between the World Cup and Olympics.
Once the team is fully recuperated, Naeher said it will be time to incorporate a new generation of players and begin pushing toward another World Cup title in 2019.
After recovering, "it’s just incorporating different players [with] the players that have been in, getting that cohesiveness going, continuing that U.S. mentality of, ‘We want to be the best in the world every tournament that we go into.’
“That’s the mentality the U.S. has always had and that hasn’t changed.”
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.