Is Alyssa Naeher the heir in goal?

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Alyssa Naeher vs.Costa Rica, Aug. 19, 2015. (Jim Brown/USA Today Sports)

John D. Halloran, writing about Alyssa Naeher for American Soccer Now, never says whether he thinks the goalkeeper will win the starting job vacated by Hope Solo’s self-immolation.

But he makes a case that she may have the inside track.

nwsl-logoNaeher, an All-American from Penn State, is one of those players (like Allie Long and Crystal Dunn) whose standing with the national team has been boosted by her performance in the National Women’s Soccer League.

After two years with the hapless Boston Breakers, she was traded before the start of the 2016 season to the Chicago Red Stars, where she joined Team USA standouts Christen Press and Julie Johnston.

The Red Stars finished with the third-best record in the league (9W-5L-6D) and made the playoffs, losing a semifinal match 2-1 in extra time to the Washington Spirit.

Despite missing several games because of her USWNT commitment, Naeher tied for the league lead in shutouts (five in 13 starts) and was second in saves, with 41. She gave up an average of just one goal per game.

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Ashlyn Harris. (John Woods/The Canadian Press/AP)

(It should be noted, however, that Ashlyn Harris, Naeher’s cheif competitor for the starting job on Team USA, won the NWSL’s Goalkeeper of the Year Award. Harris plays for the Orlando Pride.)

“Those who don’t follow the National Women’s Soccer League with any regularity,” Halloran writes, “might not be all that familiar with Naeher, or just how well she has played … at the club level.”

On the rare occasions when Solo wasn’t in goal for the U.S. team this year, coach Jill Ellis seemed to prefer Naeher to Harris. So far in 2016, Naeher has appeared in four games, starting three and accumulating 315 minutes of playing time. Harris started and completed one game, for a total of 90 minutes.

And at 28, Naeher is 30 months younger than Harris, a difference that could prove significant as Ellis assembles her team with an eye toward the World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020.

“Still,” Halloran writes, “Naeher isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Who plays when is up to the coach.  “The only thing I can control,” Naeher says, “is … my effort on the field.”

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