- Alyssa Naeher is a finalist for The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper 2020
- USWNT's No1 speaks exclusively with FIFA.com about a unique year
- "Choosing to get balls propelled at me for a living doesn’t always seem like the smartest decision!"
Alyssa Naeher is not one to crave the spotlight.
Exhibit A: It’s the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ semi-final. USA leads England 2-1 with six minutes left. Lionesses captain Steph Houghton steps up to take a penalty with a chance to equalise and send the game into extra time.
Naeher, feet glued to her goal-line, has a look of complete focus and serenity. She dives to her right and makes the save, before holding on to the ball with a mix of determination and relief. As soon as her team-mates run over to celebrate with their trusty guardian, she pushes them away, urging them to keep their heads, remain focused and see the game out.
Her match-winning save was undoubtedly a key moment in USA's run to their fourth Women's World Cup triumph. In all of her post-match interviews and media appearances, she was as relaxed, unfazed and even-keeled as she looked on the goal-line that night in Lyon.
FIFA.com found her in that mood once again after she was announced as a finalist for The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper 2020 award.
FIFA.com: Alyssa, what was your reaction to finding out you are in the final three for The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper?
Alyssa Naeher: It’s a huge honour just to be in good company with Sarah Bouhaddi and Christiane Endler. It’s been a long year, so it was exciting and I’m proud of it. My mindset has always been trying to go after championships and gold medals and how I can help my team win and continuing to improve as a goalkeeper every day. An individual award is an added bonus for the training and preparation that I put in and we put in as a team.
Are individual awards important, especially considering the year 2020 has been?
2020 has been an extremely unique year for sports but just worldwide in every different area. Everyone puts in the work and those hours and this year was, at least for me, probably the most creative I’ve had to get in terms of preparation and staying ready and fit and mentally tuned in to what’s going on in a very unpredictable year. My focus all year has been about trying to stay as ready and prepared as I could be, not knowing exactly what was going to happen. The Olympics were cancelled, the season was on hold, games kept being put off, so I tried to keep the mentality of always staying ready and as prepared as I can be for whenever different opportunities would come up.
Is there a moment of creativity that you are particularly proud of?
In Chicago, it’s a little colder there, so especially in the winter months when fields were closed and teams had shut down, I would train in the alley behind my apartment building and run down the street – fortunately not many cars were out and about. I utilised my parking garage a lot to train in there or on the roof of it.
Do you have recollection of when you knew that goalkeeper would be your position and home for you?
I always liked it even when I was a kid. I was that person asking the coach to put me in goal. I asked my parents for gloves and different things. I always thought it was fun and I always loved playing basketball. I remember being at a soccer camp one summer when I was 12 years old, and I was going to split it up and take part in goalkeeper camp for half of the time and field player camp for the other half. I remember leaving my first goalkeeper camp session and I told my parents, ‘You can take me out of the field player one, I’m a goalkeeper.’ Choosing to get balls propelled at us for a living doesn’t always seem like the smartest decision but here we are! (laughs)
When you think back on your journey, what are some defining moments or periods of time that were especially formative to you making it to the top?
I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to work with incredible coaches and other goalkeepers that have helped me get to this point, whether it be club, college or professionally. The U-20 Women’s World Cup back in 2008 was a great experience. We had a really special team. That was probably one of my favourite soccer experiences and I learned a lot from that team. Tony DiCicco was able to teach me an incredible amount just being who he was. My first couple of years in Boston I was able to learn from pros like Kristine Lilly, Leslie Osbourne, Lindsay Tarpley, Lauren Holiday and Kelly Smith – these incredible veteran players who really taught me how to be a pro. Coming up through the national team, I was in and out of the camps since 2009. I didn’t get my first cap until 2014, so those five years being able to train with Paul Rogers, Nicole Barnhart, Ashlyn Harris, Hope Solo, Jill Loyden – a great group of goalkeepers I was able to learn and grow from. The 2015 experience as a back-up to go through what it means to be part of a World Cup team was incredible. I played my role and helped the team and learned a lot in the process so that in 2019, I had a better idea and knew what to expect and knew what it was going to take.
You had to wait quite a long time for your senior national team debut. Was it difficult to remain patient and were there real moments of doubt throughout that time?
There were certainly moments of impatience. It’s always hard to wait for things. None of us as humans are wired to be waiting and patient. But I was able to, as best I could, take everything one day at a time and continue to focus on what I could do to be better than I was yesterday. What can I learn from these other goalkeepers? To be able to train in that environment, with four or five other goalkeepers at a very high level, is only going to make you better, so it was about keeping that focus. Everything is competition and the end goal is to be the one on the field, but the biggest thing I tried to hold on to was to control what I could control. I could control my attitude when I showed up to work every day and my focus on and off the field. I tried to make sure that when my opportunity did come, I didn’t want it to pass me by. I wanted to be ready for it. That was the mentality to get through some waiting.
How do you work on having short-term memory as a goalkeeper and to quickly forget your mistakes?
That’s probably one of the hardest things to do. It’s about trying to look at every experience, positive or negative, as a learning experience and try to get what I can out of it. It’s easier said than done sometimes. It’s important to be really particular to who you surround yourself with, whether it’s team-mates, coaches or family. They’re the ones who can help keep you focused in those areas of whether you make a mistake on the field, team-mates having your back. That’s been really helpful for me to have different people along the way to keep reminding you of what you’re good at and to keep pushing.
What makes you suited for the position of goalkeeper? Are there specific aspects of your personality that made it a good fit for you?
I’m a very analytical person. I like to study, to analyse and break things down and learn from things. I try and put a lot of attention to detail. I like to be ready for things. I’m a planner, everything I do is mapped out. I like to be very schedule-oriented, whether it’s the off-season or training or studying from games and trying to learn as much as I can.
What’s your favourite part of being a goalkeeper and are there aspects of it that you still don’t enjoy?
I love the high-intensity training sessions where there’s a lot of small-sided games and shooting drills when we’re involved in a lot of things. I love a good five-v-five tournament; it’s one of my favourite days of training we get to do. The least favourite part? It’s probably getting hit with the ball on a cold day in Chicago.
When you think back on this year in particular, what memories will stay with you the most?
This year was challenging and it was long. It was very different. We started the year great with Olympic qualifying and being excited about getting through. We had a great tournament as a team and we were excited about Tokyo. I was with Chicago for most of the year, and going through the Challenge Cup and Fall Series with my team-mates and coaches there was something we all had to buy into together and make the most of. We made the final of the Challenge Cup, came together as a team and continued to compete and show up and get better this year. I think I’m a better goalkeeper and a better person now than I was at the start of the year, and that’s something that I’m proud of.
All winners, including those of the FIFA Fan Award and the FIFA Fair Play Award, will be crowned on 17 December 2020 in a TV show broadcast live, starting at 19:00 CET.
Join the discussion about who should win this year’s awards by using the hashtag #TheBest.