Sat | Sep 21, 2019

Naeher and US escape exit scare

Published:Tuesday | June 25, 2019 | 12:21 AM
United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (left) makes a save in front of Spain’s Virginia Torrecilla (second left) during the FIFA Women’s World Cup round-of-16 match between the sides at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, yesterday.
United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (left) makes a save in front of Spain’s Virginia Torrecilla (second left) during the FIFA Women’s World Cup round-of-16 match between the sides at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, yesterday.

REIMS, France (AP):

Alyssa Naeher’s European vacation ended quickly yesterday. After three games with little to do, the 31-year-old American goalkeeper blundered in her first FIFA Women’s World Cup knockout match, playing a short pass to Becky Sauerbrunn that led to Spain’s tying goal just two minutes and 40 seconds after the United States had taken the lead.

“Those moments, they can absolutely destroy your team,” American coach Jill Ellis would later say.

Naeher rebounded – mentally and physically. Spain treated her like a tackle dummy, but with a couple of spectacular grabs in traffic and punch-outs, she kept the score tied. The Americans regrouped for a 2-1 victory behind Megan Rapinoe’s second penalty-kick goal in the 75th minute and will play France in a quarter-final on Friday, the first World Cup match-up between the US and a host nation.

“We grinded this one out,” Naeher said. “You have to [have] short-term memory as a goalkeeper, and it’s not ideal, but there’s still 75 or 80 minutes to play, and you can’t dwell on something that happened. You can’t change it.”

Her predecessor, Hope Solo, is at the World Cup working for BBC, casting a shadow over Naeher like the fake silhouettes of trees in the French surrealistic classic ‘Last Year at Marienbad’. Solo, a 2015 World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist, pretty much says over and over: She’s not me.

Focal point

Entering the tournament, the relatively untested Naeher was a focal point of those evaluating the top-ranked Americans’ chances of repeating as champions.

“When we have an attack as potent as ours, you have to find a narrative, and so why not it be the untested backline or the untested goalkeeper?” Sauerbrunn said. “I don’t know if it’s unfair. I think it’s just how football is.”

For now, Solo’s shots have not made their way back to her former team.

Not paying attention

“We are in kind of like a very small bubble and we’re trying not to pay attention to much outside of it,” Sauerbrunn said,

The canicule set in, as the French term a heat wave, and the temperature at kickoff was 89 degrees at Stade Auguste-Delaune.

When the final whistle blew, a drained Naeher looked at teammates and dragged a glove-covered finger across her forehead, what appeared to be an emphatic: Whew!

The day’s other game saw Stina Blackstenius giving Sweden a 1-0 win over Canada in a game with numerous interventions by the video assistant referee system.