The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson for July 20, 2020
Goalkeeping shines while scoring slumps: A look at the NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal keepers. Links and a post-game goalkeeper roundtable, because theme!
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There seems to be a fair amount of hand-wringing over the past two days after just one goal and three penalty shootouts in the NWSL quarterfinals.
These two things are apparent: There has been some outstanding goalkeeping in the last four games. There has also been a dismal absence of offense.
Heavy legs in the midst of a compact World Cup-style tournament, and at altitude, and in the summer heat, and with limited regular team training in the run-up, well, it was an inevitability. We’re at that point.
Meg Linehan wrote about it here for The Athletic.
So let’s look a little deeper at the goalkeepers that will be featured in the semifinals, shall we?
First off, Alyssa Naeher. Not much of a mystery here. The U.S. national team goalkeeper that saved Steph Houghton’s penalty kick against England in the World Cup semifinals has been her usual, steady, unassuming self in goal. If I was trapped in a burning building, I’d want Naeher to save me. She’s level-headed and even-keeled. She has 18 saves so far in the tournament, and has allowed three total goals for a .75 goals against average. Her backup, Emily Boyd, started in the group stage in a scoreless draw against the Thorns.
Sky Blue’s Kailen Sheridan leads the Challenge Cup field with 20 saves. She’s started all five games for the team, with three clean sheets and has allowed just three goals for a 0.6 goals against average. Arguably her biggest save was stopping Bayley Feist’s penalty kick against the second-seeded Spirit. Sheridan, a Canadian who was on the national team roster for the World Cup last summer, really established herself last season with 111 saves to tie for the league lead despite Sky Blue’s troubles. Here’s a nice story on Sheridan in the Charleston Post Courier.
Britt Eckerstrom has played in just one game for the Portland Thorns, but oh boy, did she make it count. Eckerstrom was pressed into service when Billa Bixby, who injured her ACL after starting in Portland’s first three games. Bixby was called into service because Adrianna Franch isn’t playing in the tournament because of a knee injury. Eckerstrom, with legend Nadine Angerer on the bench as her backup, made eight saves in the Thorns’ upset victory over the top-seeded Courage. Eckerstrom isn’t a new phenom, she’s been around since she was the 26th overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Penn State. Linehan wrote about the big game Britt for The Athletic.
Finally, my sentimental favorite, Jane Campbell. Just because. Campbell has started in all five of Houston’s games. She’s made 14 saves, but allowed six goals, for a 1.2 goals against average per game. Campbell is just 25, and she was drafted out of Stanford in 2017, but why does it feel like she’s been around forever? She has the air of a wily veteran. Campbell started in all 24 Dash games last season, with six clean sheets. She saved four penalties. For her career, she’s blocked nine out of 13 kicks. So she’s got that going for her. Oh, and my favorite Jane Campbell fun fact: Both her parents were fighter pilots.
Oh, the reason she’s my sentimental fave? The joy.
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My The IX colleague Erica Ayala asks whether the NWSL is really ready to commit to antiracism? For All for IX.
ESPN’s Graham Hays with a story on Kelley O’Hara’s Just Women’s Sports podcast. Lindsey Horan also spoke to Hays about life in the bubble.
Sandra Herrera for CBS Sports (I love that) on Allie Long and her new digital soccer show.
Aussie coach Ante Milicic steps down as coach of the Australian national team.
Molly Hensley Clancy on parenting in a bubble for the New York Times.
Nicole Wetsman with an incredibly accurate story on in the incredibly online fans of woso, for the Verge.
USA Today’s Nancy Armour spoke to Tierna Davidson for her Changing the Game podcast.
Caitlin Murray spoke to Vlatko Andonovski for Yahoo Sports.
Maggie Ryan for PopSugar (Via Yahoo) on what the NWSL re-start demonstrates about sexism in sports.
Ryan McDonald for the Deseret News wrapping up the Royals’ tournament.
Harjeet Johal with a nice story on Nichelle Prince for The Equalizer.
Also for the Equalizer, I really liked this story from Dan Lauletta on Kristie Mewis.
TWEET of the Week
Deserves attention, please.
And you didn’t see it, I wanted to just highlight Bethany Balcer’s Tweet. Honest, raw, inspiring.
Five at The IX: Goalkeepers!
Goalkeeper roundtable! In keeping with the goalkeeper theme, here are some of the post-game comments from Britt Eckerstrom, Jane Campbell and Alyssa Naeher.
Question: How do you prep for penalties. especially in the knockout round?
Campbell: We knew coming into this game, also playing them our second time, it could definitely go into the penalties. Obviously no team plans for that, but we were definitely ready. They’re an incredible team and they gave us a really tough game, so hats off to them. But prepping for them, I just knew it was a possibility, so I just did the best job I could and studied every one of their players who I thought would maybe take one. I was right and wrong, some people were on the bench, so that’s OK. But honestly, I think it’s just an in the moment-type thing. I just told our players, it’s just on your time and just believe in yourself.
Question: And what were you thinking there when the ref was talking to you and Abby before you got started?
Campbell: Yeah, she told us if we came off the line, it’s a straight yellow. And I think didn’t know that so it was good to know the new rule and I’m glad she told us before.
Question: Houston wanted to prove everybody wrong and you guys are doing that so far here. What things would you say you and the team need to work on?
Campbell: Yeah, Portland played a great game again this morning against North Carolina, two great teams and we know Portland, playing last year, we didn’t do too hot. I think moving forward, we got a new group, a new style, a new energy and Portland hasn’t seen that yet. I’m sure they’ve seen us play, but they haven’t played against us. So I think we’re really excited to play a team who is probably gunning for a championship now that they’ve knocked off North Carolina. They’re going to bring a lot of energy, as well. I think we’re just going to be ready. Bring that energy and stick to our game plan and not waiver from that.
Question: What is your mindset going into a penalty shootout?
Naeher: The mindset is try to get at least one, one save, and help my team get that. Obviously, our shooters did a great job, four for four, that’s takes a lot of the weight off my shoulders for sure. So a lot of credit to those guys for coming up, stepping up and being confident, putting the ball away and just taking it one at a time.
Question: How important is it mentally to have a world-class player like Julie Ertz open penalities?
Naeher: It’s huge. I mean, she’s confident, she steps up in that way and she puts it on the back the net, and kind of sets the tone for the rest of the shootout. Just to have her open the shootout was big for us.
Question: Can you talk about what you and Julie have done to organize, especially with a lot of younger players?
Naeher: It’s just a lot of communication, a lot of talk, a lot of organizing. Our younger players are, you know, I give them a lot of credit. They’re very willing to learn, they’re very willing to listen. And that helps us a lot. They’re open to the teaching and the coaching on the field. I’ve seen a lot of great improvement throughout the tournament, and throughout the preseason.
Question: With the lower seeds advancing, does that give you guys more confidence with a little playoff experience?
Naeher: I mean, honestly, with the NWSL the seedings don’t really mean anything. Everybody’s competitive. Everybody’s a challenge in a different way. So, one through eight in the tournament is just a number in front of a team.
Question: Can you talk about stepping into this game after not playing since last August?
Eckerstom: Yeah, I mean, we train every day to make sure that we’re ready when the time comes. So just stepping in and doing what we practice, really.
Question: What did you and Nadine Angerer discuss during the breaks that helped keep you in the Thorns in it?
Eckerstrom: Just some options to play out. Staying calm and just doing the simple things.
Question: How did you mentally reset after each one of those major saves?
Eckerstrom That’s just a part of goalkeeping. So you got to be ready for the next the next shot.
Question: Did you guess early on Debinha’s free kick at the edge of the box, and if so, what went into that decision?
Eckerstrom: Nah Just reading where it goes and reacting.
Question: Obviously, we saw a huge burst off of the bench after that one. How does this one feel?
Eckerstom: Feels pretty good. This is when it counted and we put the goal in the back of the net this time. So we get to move on and keep this journey going.