There was plenty of focus on Alyssa Naeher heading into the World Cup but in her team’s first two games in France, the U.S. national team goalkeeper had almost nothing to do.
But Naeher, who is in her first major tournament as the team’s starting goalkeeper, stayed under the radar – save for one shaky moment against Chile where she whiffed on a through ball and was thankfully bailed out by the assistant’s offside flag.
On Thursday, however, Naeher finally got her real introduction to the World Cup as the U.S. defeated Sweden 2-0 to close out a perfect group stage.
The 31-year-old was forced into action several times against Sweden in the USWNT’s group-stage finale. Though there were no spectacular saves to make, Naeher made the routine stops she needed to and punched away several crosses en route to her third straight shutout.
“Every game presents different challenges,” Naeher said. “Sometimes you see the ball once, sometimes you see the ball 100 times and the challenge is staying focused for all 90 minutes regardless.”
Regardless of how much she was called into action, Naeher was still happy her side has managed to go through the group stage without conceding a goal.
"To come away from the group stage with three shutouts as a team defensively I’m very proud of that," Naeher said. "It’s a goal that we have going into every game."
Naeher’s manager is aware her goalkeeper has been under intense scrutiny as she looks to fill the large shoes of Hope Solo, and was happy to see her face a tougher opponent before the knockout phase gets underway.
“We have a lot of confidence in her,” Ellis said of Naeher. “She was solid, both in terms of activating our attacking game and playing out and also in terms of the defensive pieces of what she did tonight.
“I think it was great, she had a really solid performance and that’s going to give her a good feeling going into the next game.”
Next up for the U.S. is Spain in the round of 16 on Monday, as Naeher gets her first taste of knockout-round play.
Thankfully, she won’t go into that game without some idea of what a World Cup is all about.