Alyssa Naeher credits pep talk from Christen Press for World Cup PK success

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The 2019 Women’s World Cup was filled with memorable moments, but perhaps none more redemptive and consequential than Alyssa Naeher’s penalty-kick save in the USWNT’s semifinal win over England.

The penalty came in the 84th minute, awarded to England after a collision in the box between Becky Sauerbrunn and Ellen White.

“Well, there was such a long VAR review. I just remember being like, ‘Just prepare like it’s a penalty,’” Naeher tells Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, in the debut episode of Season 4.

The USWNT goalkeeper recalls a hush falling over the typically boisterous crowd inside the French stadium. “I just remember everything being very quiet, which obviously it wasn’t,” Naeher says. “There’s 70,000 people in the stands.”

Naeher says at that moment she thought back to January camp, when the U.S. was scrimmaging boys in preparation for the World Cup and she let in 10 consecutive penalties during a practice shootout.

“I was so angry, I literally like ripped my jersey,” Naeher says. “I was so frustrated, and I was trying new techniques and new stuff and I was seething.”

That’s when teammate Christen Press suggested the two take a stroll to cool off. “She’s like, ‘You need to change your mindset. You need to just let go of what happened, think ahead. It’s going to matter down the road and you need to be more positive with yourself and believe that you’re going to make a save and it’s going to make a difference,’” Naeher recalls.

That pep talk from Press immediately came to mind after Naeher made her career-defining save against England, sending the USWNT through to the World Cup final.

“That was the first thing I thought of afterwards,” she says. “I was like, thank you.”

Naeher’s teammates swarmed her in celebration after the save. She quickly shooed everyone out of the box in a now iconic response. According to the star keeper, the move came less from humility and more from anxiety.

“I had like a minor panic attack,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I shouldn’t have stood up. They’re going to call me for eight seconds.'”

So, what is Naeher’s secret to penalty-kick success? She says it’s about striking the right balance between preparation and letting “yourself be in the moment.”

“I will study … game films and scouting reports,” Naeher says. “You put the time into the preparation aspects on and off the field. But then there has to still be enough of an element of letting instincts take over.”

Listen to the full conversation between O’Hara and Naeher on the Just Women’s Sports podcast.