Trying to earn, and then keep, a spot on the ultra-competitive U.S. Women’s National Team is not easy. Every player knows that every training and every game is an opportunity to prove their worth. At no position is this more the case than goalkeeper.
“On this team, you’re constantly competing and you’re constantly being evaluated. It is not easy, but we embrace that challenge” Ashlyn Harris said.
Harris and Alyssa Naeher, and young ‘keeper Jane Campbell, are the three who have been consistently in training camps since the end of the 2016 Olympics. Of course, they are very aware that they competing to earn minutes in goal for the U.S. WNT, but while they all are intense competitors, they are also friends and mentors to each other. That dynamic creates a dual environment of sorts for the group – a mix of being your best while helping your fellow ‘keeper be her best to give the team the best option available.
“The competition makes us grow and become better goalkeepers. It helps the team,” Naeher said. “We have a good time in training and it’s almost a bit of a collaborative effort.”
U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis has said on many occasions that this year is largely about evaluation, which includes evaluation of the most veteran players to the new ones, and of course, the goalkeepers. During the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, Ellis rotated between Naeher and Harris, making it clear that the starting job is still open. Whether one inches above the others at some point in the future is still to be determined, but for now, Ellis will continue to observe the performances of all three during trainings, scrimmages and matches as the growth process of the team continues following a big turn-over in players after the Olympic Games.
While this process may sound daunting, goalkeepers – players who known for their physical strength and their mental toughness and focus – are used to feeling the pressure. The chance to perform and help the team is what the live for, they dream of the moment when a split-second decision and a huge save change the game.
Of course, the USA’s “GK Union” know they have a slight advantage when it comes to preparing for the pressure – they get to play against some of the best players in the world at training every day.
“(The players on the U.S. WNT) have all the tricks that you can imagine and if you try to guess, you’ll be exposed because they’re that good,” Campbell said. “They’re the best in the world so being able to have them shoot on us it’s a great thing.”
It also brings out the best in the U.S. goalkeepers every day, which is exactly what they want.