U.S. Under-20 WNT first-choice ‘keeper Alyssa Naeher is preparing for the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Chile as one of the world’s top goalkeepers for her age group. The Penn State All-American sat down with ussoccer.com to talk about growing up as a goalkeeper, not filling the position’s stereotype and her identical twin sister.
ussoccer.com: When did you know that you were a goalkeeper?
Alyssa Naeher: “I started playing organized soccer when I was about five. I started asking to go in goal because I like diving around and getting dirty. I went to my first sleepover soccer camp when I was about 12 years old, and I went as both a field player and a goalkeeper. After the first day, I told everyone that I just wanted to be a goalkeeper. Anything that involves hand-eye coordination I’ve really liked. I like being in the back and having the feeling of being in charge at times. I like to be able to look at a situation and analyze it and it just feels natural.”
ussoccer.com: What’s the difference between the mentality of a goalkeeper and that of a field player?
AN: “I think it takes something mentally to be able to train the way we do. I think games are a lot more mentally taxing for a goalkeeper than physically. We have to stay tuned and be involved as much as possible. Field players don’t always have to think as much – sometimes they just do things.”
ussoccer.com: You’re generally pretty quiet, especially for a goalkeeper…
AN: “I think the stereotypical goalkeeper is loud, crazy and really kind of out there. That’s not me at all. I’m pretty much the opposite of that – more reserved and laid back. I think that’s the biggest thing that coaches have tried to instill in me growing up. I need to have more of a presence on the field and come out of my comfort zone in that respect. I think I’m growing in that aspect and I’m getting more and more comfortable with be louder and more communicative. I’m never going to be the loud, crazy, outgoing goalkeeper but I’m trying to get louder on the field.”
ussoccer.com: You were also a stand-out basketball player. When did you decide that you wanted to pursue soccer instead?
AN: “When I was invited into my first National Team camp I was 16. That made me realize that I might have a future with soccer more so than basketball. I was always a little more involved with soccer than basketball. I really only played basketball in high school. After I was involved with that first training camp and then started the college recruiting process, I realized that soccer could take me places.”
ussoccer.com: You ended up choosing Penn State, but you all left for Chile just before the start of the NCAA Tournament. How difficult was that?
AN: “It was very hard to leave Penn State last week. My teammates are my best friends. We eat together, live together and all hang out together. But they’ve been great and very supportive of my time with this team. They’ve always encouraged me and wanted me to be successful, so I’m very appreciative of that. Now that I’m here, I’m focused on one thing.”
ussoccer.com: Your twin sister is also a pretty good soccer player… how cool is it to have an identical twin?
AN: “My twin sister (Amanda) is awesome. We’re identical twins, but we’re nothing alike – complete opposites. She is definitely the crazy extrovert. Amanda plays at Messiah College (Pa.) and was just named the conference player of the year. She has had a great season there. She’s always been one of my biggest supporters, and since she’s close by, she comes to as many games as she can. We train together when we’re home, which isn’t very often but growing up we’d play together all the time. We had a built-in playing partner from the time we were born. We also have a younger sister, Abigail, who is a junior in high school. She’s a cross country runner now and she really enjoys it. I’m really happy for her.”
ussoccer.com: Between the U-20s and being a student-athlete at Penn State, do you have much down time? What do you do to relax?
AN: “Here we’re spending a lot of our time doing homework since we’re missing so much class. I like to play Rock Band too. I always play the drums (ed. note – she really does like hand-eye-coordination tasks!) but I don’t sing. Ever. When I have down time, because it’s so rare, I just try to relax and be on my computer or watch a movie.”