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Alyssa Naeher, Ali Krieger’s Evolved Roles Help USWNT To World Cup Glory

The 2019 Women’s World Cup came to a close in glorious, triumphant fashion for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team, which beat the Netherlands 2-0 to capture its second consecutive World Cup on Sunday afternoon in Lyon, France.

Although the 2015 and 2019 American squads came up with the same end result, there are plenty of differences between the two sides that captured the biggest prize in women’s soccer. Two of those differences are the roles played by Penn State women’s soccer alumnae Alyssa Naeher and Ali Krieger.

Naeher received a call-up for the 2015 World Cup in Canada, but she didn’t play at all. Hope Solo was the Americans’ first-choice keeper throughout that tournament, and she rewarded head coach Jill Ellis’ faith in her by conceding just three goals and winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award as its best goalkeeper.

This time, however, Naeher was tasked with the starting job between the sticks. The Penn Stater wasn’t all that busy throughout the group stage of this year’s World Cup with just four saves against Thailand, Chile, and Sweden. Once the knockout round began, however, opposing sides began testing Naeher much more.

Naeher conceded her first goal of the tournament in the round of 16 against Spain before a strong four-save performance against France in the quarterfinal. A 2-1 victory over the hosts set up a huge semifinal match between England and the United States, and the spotlight clearly wasn’t too big for Naeher between the sticks.

Despite allowing two goals — one of which was disallowed thanks to VAR — Naeher put in an excellent performance. She made a huge save on Keira Walsh’s long-distance effort in the first half before securing cult hero status among American soccer fans in the second half.

“Alyssa Naeher — she needs to be player of the match,” star forward Alex Morgan said immediately following the USWNT’s 2-1 victory over England. “Honestly, she saved our asses.”

Naeher’s 84th-minute penalty save essentially sent the Americans back to the World Cup final, and it turned out to be the goalkeeper’s last real hurrah in the tournament. She made just one save as her team outclassed Holland in a 2-0 victory to successfully complete its World Cup title defense.

Meanwhile, Ali Krieger also took on a much different role within head coach Jill Ellis’ set-up. The right back played in all but 10 minutes of the 2015 World Cup and was a key reason why the Americans conceded just three goals throughout that tournament. Krieger, however, didn’t hold down a regular spot in the American starting XI this year.

Kelley O’Hara began the tournament as the Americans’ first-choice right back and started at the position in six of the team’s seven matches. Krieger was named to the starting XI against Chile, but her only two other appearances came as a substitute. She replaced O’Hara for the last few minutes of the semifinal round and played the entire second half of the final against the Netherlands.

Krieger’s performances were all solid — the USWNT didn’t concede once while she was on the pitch — but they don’t account for her entire impact on the team.

“Ali’s incredible. Look at what she’s done for this team, and now stepping into a maybe a little different role than she’s played in past tournaments,” O’Hara said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “She’s great. I’m so thankful that she’s here. I’ve always wanted her here. I’ve always thought she needed to be here … It’s a long tournament, so we need people that are able to step in, fill big roles, and have that experience like she does.”

Before April 2019, the former Penn State defender hadn’t been called up to the national team for a year and a half. Some were surprised to see Krieger’s name on Jill Ellis’ 23-player World Cup squad, but the veteran repaid her faith with solid, steady performances at the back.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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