Naeher takes Round 1 in battle to be top keeper

Dan Lauletta March 1, 2017 11
Alyssa Naeher won the Germany round of the goalkeeper competition. But Ashlyn Harris is waiting. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

Alyssa Naeher won the Germany round of the goalkeeper competition. But Ashlyn Harris is waiting. (Photo Copyright Clark Linehan for The Equalizer)

CHESTER, PA. — For the first time in recent memory, possibly in forever, there is an open goalkeeper competition on the U.S. national team. When Hope Solo was pushed out last summer, it left Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris to vie for the top spot on the depth chart. Neither of them are particularly new to the team. Both are World Cup champions from 2015 and were on the SheBelieves Cup roster last year. But Solo played every minute of both the 2015 World Cup and 2016 SheBelieves Cup, not to mention the 2016 Olympic Games.

Wednesday night in Chester, Pennsylvania it was Naeher who got the nod from Jill Ellis against Olympic champion Germany, and she ran with it, making one particularly difficult save and overcoming windy conditions and an as yet unrefined 3-5-2 formation to shut out Germany, 1-0.

“I thought Alyssa managed the game really well,” Ellis said after the U.S. improved to 4-0-0 all-time at the SheBelieves Cup. “Her distribution was great. They’re a very dangerous team around the box. She played very well.”

The last two years have vaulted Naeher into the conversation when it turns to the sport’s elite keepers. After two plus years buried in Boston when great save after great save went as far as to make her NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2014 despite a 2.26 goals against, one season in Chicago and more time with the national team has helped refine her game.

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“There’s a lot of times that in a 90 minute game you might have to do one thing, so it’s just being ready for it,” Naeher said. “Obviously it’s a good confidence booster to be able to have a save rather than a goal. That helps calm down a little bit and those things feel good. Germany being a very good opponent, they’re going to have their opportunities.”

As far as playing behind three defenders rather than four, it is a formation rarely used in NWSL and never regularly by any of Naeher’s teams. Ellis said it keeps the team constantly on the front foot, and as a result sometimes the back line and keeper have more work to do when the ball is lost.

“We’re more involved with our feet being back there as an outlet, even sometimes having to reset the play and get back into our shape. I’m just trying to put myself in the right pockets to be a supportive player–finding those channels and finding those pockets so that I can try to help those three.

“There’s a lot happening and a lot of players running through. There is a lot more space to cover with three so communication is a huge part of it.”

Naeher said that communication in back is a team effort. Allie Long, a player with limited experience as a defender, is the most central player and can usually see the most. But Becky Sauerbrunn has built a career as a defensive leader and remains a vocal element for the back three.

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Unlike during the Solo era and many eras before that, there are no guarantees going forward for Naeher. Harris sat on the bench against Germany but figures to get time in at least one of the remaining two SheBelieves matches.

“I’m not going to give my lineup out early,” Ellis said, “but the commitment is to play them both.”

Naeher is taking the uncertainty in stride: “The only thing I have control over is what I bring to the field every day. At the end of the day it’s the coach’s decision, so I try to focus on what I can control and leave my mind there.”

  • chrisg

    still can’t get over that romania gaffe from harris

  • lisa

    Will be difficult to compare these two. They have totally different playing styles

  • Rdalford

    us soccer lineup notes for Naeher highlight that she played in Germany (went on loan to Postdam after 2011 WPS season, then when WPS folded, stayed thru 2013)

    “From 2011-13, Naeher played in Germany for FFC Turbine Postdam. In the 2012-13 season, she posted a 16-4-1 record with 10 shutouts and helped Potsdam earn a Champions League berth. Potsdam finished second in the Bundesliga, four points back of champion Wolfsburg. In the 2011-12 season, she went 13-2-2 with 11 shutouts in the league and helped the club win the league title.”

    also worth noting that Harris also has experience playing in Europe. in 2012 after WPS folded Harris signed with FCR 2001 Duisburg in the Frauen-Bundesliga for 2012 and Harris also played on loan (after NWSL season) with Swedish club Tyresö FF in 2013

    • CT

      FCR 2001 Duisburg is truly no comparison to Potsdam. Turbine is one of the best teams in the bundesliga and more so during the time Naeher was there. Harris with Tyreso she faced ok quality teams, Naeher however has faced tougher competition while she was there (Arsenal, Lyon, Wob)

    • Steglitz49

      Their records do not get round the salient fact that the US must now look for considerably taller goalies and develop them now, not in 5 years time. There is no shortage of tall girls in the US expert at handling balls but if the road to the USWNT is blocked by Hope’s understudies, these tall girls are going to go for basket and volley ball every time, even handball.

      • Rdalford

        The taller GK’s are coming up thru college and youth levels.
        Casey Murphy (6’0″) currently with U23 in La Manga (2-0 win over Japan U23) and previously with U20 has 3 more years with Rutgers.
        Brooke Heinsohn (6’1″) currently with U20/19 group also in La Manga and also backup GK with U20 is freshman at Duke. current FSU GK Cassie Miller (5’11”) is one of many taller GK examples at NCAA level

        • Steglitz49

          There is no time like the present.

  • dw

    Good job, but the toothless German attack really flattered her.

  • Silver Frost

    Last time Harris played France she allowed 2 goals, although one was a PK from Necib.

    • Guest

      No it wasn’t. One was Houara’s shot/cross and one was Le Sommer’s header

  • AlexH

    Naeher stopped the shots she should have stopped, so I guess this outing helped her but other than that not much can be said.