Unflappable US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher lets her actions speak for her

United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, left, celebrates with teammates at the end of the penalty shootout in a CONCACAF Gold Cup women's soccer tournament semifinal match against Canada, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, left, celebrates with teammates at the end of the penalty shootout in a CONCACAF Gold Cup women’s soccer tournament semifinal match against Canada, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Alyssa Naeher always lets her actions do her talking. And boy, the softspoken U.S. goalkeeper’s actions can sure be loud.

The 10-year national team veteran and two-time Women’s World Cup winner had one of the strongest games of her career Wednesday night at the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup. Not only did she make three saves during a penalty shootout with Canada, she converted a penalty kick herself — tucking the ball neatly into the corner of the net.

The performance put the United States into the Gold Cup final against Brazil on Sunday at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium.

“Alyssa Naeher was just a beast,” forward Alex Morgan told reporters after advancing to the final. “I don’t even know how she pulled off all those saves. And then calmly, just with the side of her foot, passed the ball into the goal.”

Naeher is known for her calm and steady demeanor. She’s not totally quiet, however. Often in games she’s seen directing the teammates in front of her like a conductor leading an orchestra.

In the Gold Cup quarterfinals against Colombia, Naeher was celebrated for her 100th appearance for her country. She’s one of just three U.S. goalkeepers to reach the milestone. The U.S. is the world’s only women’s national team that can boast three goalkeepers with as many caps.

She got her 81st win and 61st career shutout in the national team’s 3-0 victory over Columbia. It was a key rebound game for the United States, which had a shocking 2-0 loss to Mexico to wrap up the group stage.

Ever humble, Naeher wasn’t about her personal milestones, instead pointing to the team for a crucial win.

“I’m just proud of the team for a huge win,” she said. “We needed it big time, and obviously coming off a disappointing result, to regroup and get back on the field and put together a performance like that against a very good Colombian team.”

Naeher made her debut with the national team in 2014 and was a backup to Hope Solo at the 2015 World Cup, which the United States won. She became the team’s regular starter following the 2016 Olympics and was on the squad that repeated as World Cup winners in 2019.

The 35-year-old has also played for the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women’s Soccer League since 2016.

On Sunday, the United States will face a Brazilian team that downed Mexico 3-0 in the semifinals. This is the first women’s Gold Cup, which was created to give women’s teams in the region more opportunities for meaningful competition.

The tournament is also a good way for both teams to prepare for this summer’s Olympics in France.

In a slog of a semifinal match that was impacted not only by steady rain but by standing water on the field, the United States was leading Canada 2-1 in extra time. But in the final moments, Naeher collided with defender Vanessa Gilles. Naeher was handed a yellow card and Canada was awarded a penalty, which Adriana Leon converted.

Naeher and the United States went to a penalty shootout moments later. She stopped an attempt, converted her own penalty, and made two more saves to finish it off and the United States advanced to the final 3-1 on penalties.

“To make three saves and contribute to the goal tally was huge,” U.S. interim coach Twila Kilgore said. “And that just speaks volumes about her mentality and also how these types of experiences she’s faced over and over again in her career lead to absolute confidence for the rest of us in her ability to do these things. We know she’s going to step up. ”

Afterward, Naeher again deferred to her team.

“We never blinked, it was ‘All right, on to the shootout.’ We let our process take over and there was all the energy from the players on the sideline to the players on the field and the staff,” she said. “We locked into what we wanted to do.”

Asked whether it felt better to save a penalty or convert one, Naeher smiled.

“Winning the game is the best feeling.”

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