PARIS — An error led to Spain’s goal Monday night, the only goal scored against the United States so far during the Women’s World Cup. The two players involved were goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and defender Becky Sauerbrunn.
Though a Spanish player stole the ball from Sauerbrunn, Naeher received the brunt of the criticism for playing a ball out of the back when her teammates were under heavy pressure.
When asked after the match to walk through that moment, Naeher took full responsibility.
“I think I just need to make a smarter decision, not play it into a pressure pocket, and probably just better to put it up the field a little bit more and play higher up,” she said.
Naeher had faced criticism and naysayers ever since she took over for Hope Solo as the USWNT’s starting goalkeeper. Her skill and confidence have been questioned constantly, even by Solo and former U.S. keeper Briana Scurry. She’s unproven, having never played in a major tournament until now.
But not to her teammates and coach. Every U.S. player asked about Naeher after the game praised the way their goalkeeper bounced back from that costly mistake and finished out the match.
“Yeah, I mean not good. Obviously when we’re under pressure like that, we just need to get rid of it,” Megan Rapinoe said of the decision-making in the moment before the Spain goal. “I think we all kind of came together and we were like, it’s fine, it’s early – those things are going to happen. Obviously, we don’t want them to happen, but when they do, we cant be, ya know, ‘Don’t do that!’ or dwell. She’s gonna be like, ‘No [expletive,] don’t do that.’
“We’ll watch film, and they won’t ever do that again in that exact same way, but just [need] to make sure we stay in it and have each other’s backs.”
U.S. coach Jill Ellis said she thought Naeher responded to the error brilliantly.
“Those moments can absolutely destroy a team or unravel a team, and I actually think the mental capacity and strength of this team, they kind of parked it and moved on,” Ellis said, adding that evaluating Naeher’s performance depends on what lens you look through.
“That’s one moment of a 97-minute game,” Ellis said. “And I thought some of the balls she came for were big and brave. It’s part of the game. She’s lived through it and she’s moved on.”
How does one move on and not get rattled by an early error? Naeher said it’s all about having a short-term memory, something she’s learned is necessary as a goalkeeper.
“It’s not ideal, but there’s still 85 minutes, or 80, to play and you can’t dwell on that moment, you can’t change it,” Naeher said. “I’ve got full confidence in my team. I knew we were going to get one back, and I think that was the message to myself: ‘Hey, we’re fine, everything is OK.'”