Alyssa Naeher’s been on the big stage before. The 22-year-old Boston Breakers keeper won the Golden Glove for the world champion U-20 Women’s National Team at the 2008 Women’s World Cup. Now, Naeher has taken her game to another level. She’s currently in Portugal at her first Algarve Cup with the full U.S. Women’s National Team.
“I have heard great things about past Algarve tournaments and am excited for the opportunity to be here to experience one,” Naeher said. “It’s been great to be in Portugal so far. We are staying at a beautiful hotel, and I’m hoping to be able to see some of the country. We have only been here for a few days so haven’t had too much time to explore yet, but reading on the balcony and walking down by the beach are pretty popular downtime activities so far.”
The USWNT, seven-time Algarve Cup champs, open the tournament March 2 against Japan, followed by games against Norway (March 5) and Finland (March 7). The four teams make up Group A. Group B features Sweden, China, Denmark, and Iceland, and Portugal, Wales, Chile, and Romania make up Group C. Four teams in the Algarve Cup will play this summer in the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. Three of those teams are in the USWNT’s group at Algarve.
“The atmosphere is good,” Naeher said. “Everyone is excited to be here and training hard. I like the team’s chances. This tournament is a great opportunity to get some quality international and very competitive games to continue preparing for the upcoming World Cup.”
In addition to experiencing her first Algarve Cup, Naeher is training with Olympic gold medalist keepers Hope Solo and Nicole Barnhart as well as Algarve Cup rookie keeper Ashlyn Harris.
“It has been a great opportunity for me to train with the other goalkeepers here,” Naeher said. “I feel as though I am learning and growing every session. It’s always great to be able to train at such a high level with such great goalkeepers. One of the biggest things I get from them is just their training mentality. They (Solo and Barnhart) have been with this team for a lot of years now and have a lot of experience, and it’s been great to be able to watch and learn from them.”
Naeher’s also training with some familiar faces. Five of her Breakers teammates are on the Algarve Cup roster – Lauren Cheney, Amy LePeilbet, Stephanie Cox, Rachel Buehler, and Kelley O’Hara.
“It’s awesome to have five Breakers teammates here on this team,” Naeher said. “It’s always nice to have people around you that you trust and are familiar with. It’s just great to see them all have success. I think that they represent Boston very well.”
Looking down the road, Naeher talked about the upcoming WPS season, which for Boston begins April 9 against the Atlanta Beat.
“I’m very excited about the start of WPS. I think we had a great team and season last year,” Naeher said. “We have lost a couple big players for us from that team, but have also picked up great players in the offseason who I think will bring a lot of positives to our team both on and off the field. But I am very much looking forward to that opening weekend down in Atlanta and starting our run to a WPS championship. I think all of the new players will fit in great with our team. Kelley (O’Hara) and Rachel (Buehler) will be able to bring a lot of their National team experience with them, and both are quality people off the field as well. Nikki (Washington) brings a lot of creativity to the game and will be a big contributor for us. ”
Naeher’s coming off a rookie season in which she started 16 games and posted a 9-4-2 record with three shutouts and a 1.17 goals against average. In this year’s home opener, Boston faces the expansion Western New York Flash, which features a loaded roster, including five-time FIFA World Player of the Year and two-time WPS scoring champion, Marta. Naeher said that even though she’s faced Marta a few times, there’s no telling what the Brazilian forward will do when she has the ball.
“There is nothing predictable about Marta,” Naeher said. “She is a great player, and the best way to defend her is just to try to keep her in front of us and try to eliminate her speed in behind and control her when she’s on the ball.”