Top USWNT goalie Alyssa Naeher smiles at the ‘blood, sweat and tears' it took

Growing up in Connecticut, the daughter of an athletic director and PE teacher, it took a talk from Ali Krieger for Naeher to realize how crucial her voice is as the U.S. women's national soccer team's goalkeeper

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Focused and calm under pressure, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is unflinching at the net and when she's called to score.

This year, the 10-year national team veteran and two-time Women's World Cup winner reached over 100 appearances and became the first goalkeeper in National Women's Soccer League history to have played over 15,000 minutes.



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"It just really puts a smile on my face to think back to all of the blood, sweat and tears, the really, really challenging, hard moments that nobody else probably saw. But I remember, and I know that if I didn't experience that, it wouldn't have helped me get to where I am now," Alyssa Naeher said.

Growing up in Connecticut, the daughter of an athletic director and PE teacher, Naeher got into soccer as soon as she could play. She said she was inspired to pursue the sport watching the 1999 World Cup, when she was 11 years old.

"It was such an amazing experience to experience that game. And then I think probably it became a little bit more realistic when probably more 14 or 15. I started traveling around with like U14 national teams, U16 national teams and started realizing like I can pay for college in doing this" Naeher said.

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Early on, she decided to be "like a sponge," learning as much as she could from players around her.

"It kind of registered, I need to pay attention to what these other players are doing because they've been here for so long. They've been so successful," said Naeher. "Let me like try some of this, try some of that. And then using all of those things. I have always wanted to stay true to myself as well and be me. I've never wanted to be anything or any more than myself."

Naeher admits she has a quiet demeanor and laid back personality. In college, she said her team captain helped her realize how crucial her voice is in her position.

"I remember a few different moments even with Ali Krieger, actually, when I was at Penn State and she was like All-American senior captain. I was little freshman. I was like, what am I going to tell you that you don't already know? She's like, no, I, I can't see behind me like, I need this from you. And I remember, like, that moment, it finally clicked. It empowered me to communicate, to speak and to help organize and realize that that is such a huge part of the position, being able to be the eyes behind the rest of the group," Naeher said.

"I have a responsibility to communicate and to organize. It's certainly something that I've had to grow into in my career. And a lot of that comes from experience, comes from just learning things ... the more confidence you have, it does get a little bit more second nature, but it has definitely been a learned process," Naeher continued.

Naeher's professional career began with the Boston Breakers, competing alongside several of her role models, including Kristine Lilly, an experience the goalkeeper called incredible.

"She was somebody that I had always looked up to growing up, being a fellow player from Connecticut. To be able to see somebody from a place that you know so well get to that level is very eye opening," said Naeher. "'Oh, she can do it, like, I can do this ... this has been done before.' And then to have that opportunity to play with her in Boston my rookie year, my second year as well, I just learned so much from her. She was such a competitive person, a true leader. Honestly, I just sat back and watched what she did, how she did it, how she interacted with teammates, how she interacted with coaches."

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It was a master class in teamwork and leadership.

"I think that's something that I've learned as well as. There's so many different types and ways of leadership, of being a teammate, of being a player doesn't have to be — you can be the quietest person, you can be the loudest person. But how you treat people, how you treat your teammates, how you push your teammates, the commitment that you give to each and every practice and training session and game is where you kind of leave your legacy, leave your mark," Naeher said.

She didn't play at her first Olympics in Rio. In Tokyo, an injury forced her off the field during the semifinal.

"To be injured after such a high of, you know, the quarterfinal, winning a shootout, and everything feels like it's going so well, and then you go from such a high to such a low so quickly is, that's the cruel part of sports," said Naeher. "Obviously, you want to be on the field, you want to be part of it. But we're still so proud to be part of that team and part of that group and to then get to stand on the podium with the team — I still just get chills thinking back to that moment. Obviously, we wanted a gold medal. That's what you go in for. But still, to be able to walk away with an Olympic medal and winning bronze was was an incredible moment."

She hopes Paris will be another shot at victory: "It would mean everything to get to compete and try to win a gold medal and stand on that podium."

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