If you want to know what Alyssa Naeher does when she isn’t stopping penalties and ruining the World Cup and the Olympic dreams of those who dare to challenge her, the answer is almost always a crossword puzzle. In this mishmash of vocabulary and jargon, she can get lost and put aside the staggering pressure of a job where perfection is the only acceptable option for an organization so powerful that victory has become the only reasonable outcome.
Naeher wasn’t perfect on Friday, until she looked gorgeous. This is how sport can sometimes work: the player whose blunder brings defeat into the equation later plays a heroic game that leads to victory. But rarely like this.
What Naeher did was like hitting twice with the bases loaded, then hitting three Grand Slam tournaments in the same game. It was like throwing two disastrous pick-sixes, then responding with three 80-yard touchdown passes.
Honestly, it could have been more extraordinary.
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It would be wrong to say that Naeher’s performance in the United States Women’s National Team’s quarterfinal victory over the Netherlands – won by a 4-2 advantage on penalties – ranks among the biggest in the history of women’s football. But it would be fair to state that his spectacular efforts that night in Yokohama could have had a bigger impact on the advancement of major tournaments than anyone to play his position.
Naeher was twice beaten on long shots, around 18 meters, by 25-year-old Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema, who has scored so much in these Olympics that she could be awarded the Golden Boot. in Paris 2024 just to take this into account. all. The first of these was a lightning strike into open space by a misstep from defender Abby Dahlkemper and gave the Netherlands a 1-0 lead. Naeher was not at all to blame.
With the United States protecting a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute, however, Miedema shot again almost from the same spot, but this time with much less authority. Naeher didn’t reach him in time and the ball entering the net tied the score.
She had looked uncomfortable against the Swedish seat in the Olympics opener, but here she looked deficient. And then, just when it seemed like she was part of the national team responsibilities, she became the savior.
With the score still tied in the 80th minute, with little time for the USWNT to respond if they were to fall behind, right-back Kelley O’Hara made an unnecessary and absurd foul against the dangerous forward. Dutch Lineth Beerensteyn directly in front of goal. It was an obvious penalty, which meant the Netherlands were 12 feet away from a goal that would almost surely take them forward to the semi-finals.
They sent in veteran midfielder Lieke Martens to take the kick. She tried to squeeze the ball inside the right post, her favorite move, but Naeher appeared to be conscious and jumped in front of the shot, harmlessly deflecting it to the left before rushing to grab it.
“I think we’re just building that energy,” USWNT midfielder Rose Lavelle told reporters afterwards. “There’s no one else I’d rather have in the back of the net than her. She saved us in so many great games and proved to be important in such great times. She deserves all the credit in the world. She’s the reason we’re still in there.
The occasion was similar to the 2019 World Cup semi-finals, although in this case his penalty save against England’s Steph Houghton kept a 2-1 lead in the 84th minute (below ). The United States finished that match and then beat the Netherlands in the final to claim a fourth world title.
This time around there was still 10 minutes to go and then 30 minutes of overtime in which the Americans chased a game-winning goal and sort of scored it twice, although Christen Press was offside on one. and Alex Morgan on the other.
That stretch also included an awkward moment from Naeher in the 94th minute, another reason to doubt her, when a corner kick was deflected to the crossbar and had to be tapped on goal and out of play. mis-timing his jump and mismanaging the ball, then Martens arrived to steer the ball into the net. What would have been the worst possible outcome, however, was erased because Beerensteyn was offside on the game.
“We are able to split the minutes between a lot of people, and I think that helps,” said USWNT winger Megan Rapinoe. “We managed to get the best of them in overtime. A few toe nail offside… then the hidden penalties. This team never really gives up, whether we play like shit or play well. We’re still going to go out there and play as hard as we can. “
Whether it was the confidence of the first penalty stop or just its natural state – the results of major events suggest the latter – Naeher judged the shooting as if it were his own living room. First, the Netherlands opened with Miedema and Naeher swallowed the shot. The Americans immediately took the advantage on a shot from the left corner from Rose Lavelle. They stayed perfect for two more rounds, with Morgan and Press rolling the ball to opposing corners to comfortably beat goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal.
The lead was 3-2 as Aniek Nouwen approached for a kick she couldn’t afford to miss. Without success there, the Americans would have two hits. Naeher practically caught his attempt. Rapinoe then propelled the match winner to the upper right corner.
“I could hear [my teammates] all the time saying, “We are with you,” and that meant a lot, “Naeher told reporters. “I knew they were there with me. And I could feel their support and this energy from them. And I am very grateful for that.
“I felt pretty good when I saw Meg come in to pick it up. I think I told her to end it, and she did.
This is the kind of result that can alleviate a lot of mistakes and misgivings. Dahlkemper was better in this game, but his mistake on the first goal could have been decisive. So, too, O’Hara’s stupid fault. And at some point, attackers need to be disciplined enough to avoid going offside – there have been nine offside goals in this tournament – and midfielders patient enough to make sure their targets are. legal.
But Andonovsky’s decision to start Lynn Williams up front turned out to be brilliant, she scored the first goal on a brilliant chance she created for herself, then assisted on the header from Lindsey Horan who gave the advantage to the Americans. And, as he pointed out, the shootout’s four penalties were all scored by players he substituted in the game.
Mainly, there was – what’s a six letter word for brick wall, starts with an “N”? Oh, yes: Naeher. Statistically, only 17.5% of penalties are saved by goalkeepers. Some are missed because they are sent off the post or blown over the bar. She did not need such assistance. She has stopped 60 percent of the penalties sent to her.
“She’s been huge this whole tournament,” said Rapinoe. “Obviously, taking a penalty for them in the middle of the game is huge, then giving us two in the shootout, it made it easier for us, especially with them first. This takes the pressure off the team. It was just huge. He’s not a very talkative person, especially to you guys. She probably never tells you guys anything. But it was absolutely huge for us.