Best of the Nets
The USA-Germany match on Oct. 29 at the sold-out Impuls Arena will pit two teams with tremendous attacking talent. U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage encourages her team to be brave and throw numbers forward while German head coach Silvia Neid’s squad scored six goals in the final of the recent European Women’s Championships. These philosophies could put the spotlight on two players who are widely hailed as the best in the world at their position: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo and German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer.
“The conditions you need to be a good goalkeeper are exactly the same conditions you need to be a good sculptor. You must have a very good connection, in both professions, with time and space.”
--Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), Spanish sculptor considered one of the greatest artists of the second half of the 20th century.
Anytime the USA and Germany square off, there were will be a lot of great players on the field. But if you are a fan of the art of goalkeeping, Impuls Arena in Augsburg, Germany will serve as a “must-see gallery” on Oct. 29. The best two women’s goalkeepers in the world will roam opposite penalty areas when the world’s top two women’s soccer nations slug it out on a chilly evening in Bavaria.
The fact that Hope Solo and Nadine Angerer back-stop the world’s best national teams is no coincidence. To win at the highest levels, you must have a world class goalkeeper, and both fit the bill. Both women exhibit tremendous athleticism, the ability to organize from the back, solid skills with the ball at their feet, dominating presence in the air and the tendency to make the spectacular save when called upon.
Coincidentally, both players have about the same number of caps; 84 for Solo and 86 for Angerer. Both are 5-foot-9-inch. Angerer, at 31, is three years older than Solo, but both solidified their status as the most elite of goalkeepers during the two most recent world championships. And both did it with fantastic performances against none other than Brazilian forward Marta, winner of FIFA’s World Player of the Year Award in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
At the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Angerer started in the place of injured veteran Silke Rottenberg. Many pundits predicted goalkeeping to be a weakness for the Germans, but a tremendously organized defense and some spectacular play from Angerer enabled Germany to progress through the tournament without surrendering a goal, a truly remarkable achievement.
In the Women’s World Cup Final, Angerer saved a penalty kick from Marta to preserve a 1-0 German lead, sealing her place in German women’s soccer lore. Germany would win the title with a 2-0 final result.
At the 2008 Olympics, Solo played six solid matches in China, which included a domination of her penalty area and a monster save on an almost point-blank shot by Marta in the Olympic gold medal game.
Needless to say, goals will be hard to come by in Augsburg.
There are those who say the overall quality of women’s goalkeeping has not quite kept up with the massive growth of the game world-wide. If Solo and Angerer are any indication, it’s surely catching up.
“There are two major things in the women’s game that really differentiate the best goalkeepers,” said Solo. “One is their ability to come out strong for services in the box and maneuver through a crowd to find the ball. It’s important to be able to read the service early and be confident in finding a path to ball through players like Abby Wambach or Birgit Prinz who are coming at you as hard as you are going at them.”
“The other quality that you don’t see enough of in female goalkeepers is their confidence with the ball at their feet, whether that’s keeping possession, quick counters with a drop kick or a long service. The ability to play with their feet allows them to play higher off the line to support their defense. It’s an evolution of the game and goalkeepers from here on out will have to start equipping themselves with these skills.”
Both Solo and Angerer bring the intangibles to the match. Both have tremendous experience, a key component for goalkeepers, as well as that “presence” in the goal, a way of carrying themselves that says, “I own this penalty box and all those who come into it best beware.”
“To some extent, almost every goalkeeper can make saves, can shot-stop,” said Solo. “But it’s being able to go beyond that that enables you to be the best, to read the game, read plays, prevent shots, direct your defense and help your team on a level that’s not necessarily physical.”
Solo, an ultra-competitive person and player, is certainly relishing the challenge of facing some of the world’s best.
“You play so many friendlies every year that personally I find it hard to judge where I am as a player,” said Solo. “But when you compete on the big stage environment like the World Cup or the Olympics, I find myself able to evaluate at a true level due to the competition. So two years out before the World Cup, it’s nice to be given the opportunity to evaluate my game and see what I have to work on.”
The two ‘keepers certainly are a part of a small union to which every goalkeeper has a kinship. They both know what it takes to play such a difficult position in such a bright spotlight, with so little margin for error, and that certainly breeds a mutual respect.
“Angerer exudes so much confidence that it’s contagious to her team and intimidating to players who go up against her,” said Solo. “That’s a quality you can’t necessarily gain from training. She’s always had that. Her shot-stopping is world class and she seems to make big saves every time I see her play.”
From Angerer, it’s pretty much the same about Solo, who certainly has some qualities which are held in high regard by Germans.
“Hope is certainly one of the best goalkeepers in the world,” said Angerer of her American counterpart. “I think she is a very courageous player with great determination and a strong will."
The two goalkeepers may not speak before the match, but perhaps a handshake, a knowing glance and nod of the head will be enough to acknowledge the artful display of goalkeeping that will come over the next 90 minutes.