The U.S. team in this Women’s World Cup is full of strong personalities.
There’s Megan Rapinoe, the outspoken activist who took a knee before a game in support of Colin Kaepernick. Alex Morgan, the girl next door who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazines in the same week. And Carli Lloyd, the two-time world player of the year who wears grudges the way some of her teammates wear headbands.
Then there’s Alyssa Naeher, the goalkeeper. Since taking over for Hope Solo following the 2016 Olympics, she’s lost just three of 43 games, posting 25 shutouts, including back-to-back ones in the World Cup.
Yet she remains as elusive as a Russian spy.
“I think Alyssa Naeher doesn’t want anybody to learn about Alyssa Naeher,” Lloyd said.
Forward Mallory Pugh, sitting nearby, nodded.
“That’s true,” she said.
Naeher, 31, has certainly had a quiet World Cup, with opponents taking just three shots in two games, only two of them on target. The U.S. has already qualified for the round of 16 and Naeher hasn’t even broken a sweat.
She made history just the same, becoming the third player since 1992 to start at least two Women’s World Cup games in goal for the U.S. after Solo and Briana Scurry.
So what’s she like?
“She does crosswords,” Lloyd offered helpfully, adding that Naeher sits with her in the back of the team bus.
“She’s quiet but when you get her one on one she really opens up and she’s smart, she’s funny, she’s witty. On the training pitch she’s head down, focused, wanting to do her job. Loves getting repetition. Sometimes when we have a little bit of time at the end of training sessions, we’ve got shots coming, we’ve got crosses coming, we’ve got PKs being taken. And she’s the lone goalkeeper in net just wanting to literally try to save every single shot.”
A former high school basketball star in Connecticut, Naeher waited years for her chance with the senior national team. She won a U20 World Cup — and was also named best keeper in the tournament — in 2008 and was called into camp with the senior team for the first time in 2010.
She mostly served as Solo’s caddie while making the 2015 World Cup team but never played. It wasn’t until Solo was suspended following the Rio Olympics that she got the chance to play regularly.
Asked how she got through that long apprenticeship, Naeher said he had to turn to others for support.
“Lean on your teammates. Lean on your family. Just focus on what you want,” she said. “For me it was showing up every day and controlling all the things that I could control. And that was being a good teammate.
“That looks different for everybody at times.”
While the U.S. team was training Tuesday, a group of friends and family members visited Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. There the group met with Steve Melnikoff, a 99-year-old World War II veteran who stormed Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944, the day after the initial invasion.
The U.S. delegation, along with Melnikoff, laid a floral arrangement in the shape of a soccer ball at a memorial inside the cemetery grounds and placed multicolored roses at headstones through the cemetery.
Melnikoff, who fought with C Company, 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, was wounded twice in France, shot once in the upper chest and later injured by shrapnel from an artillery shell. He returned to combat both times.
Melnikoff and three other D-Day veterans met with the national team when it was training in France in January.