Alyssa Naeher still believes she saved Sweden’s game-winning penalty for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup. And she probably always will.
As the USWNT goalkeeper shared with Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams on the latest episode of “Snacks,” she spent the entire day with “this feeling in the pit of my stomach” that the Round of 16 match would end in a scoreless draw followed by a penalty shootout.
“I’m not really a visualization person,” she said. But leading up to the match, she even got the feeling that she would take a penalty kick herself, and that she would have to make a double save of one of Sweden’s shots.
“And it literally played out,” she said. “I’m like, I don’t know if I overly manifested this. But obviously in my head, in the visualization, we moved on and we won.”
That part of her vision did not come to fruition. While Naeher spent the shootout diving “as far as (she) possibly could,” and she even got a hand on Lina Hurtig’s shot in the seventh round, the ball tipped up into the air and crossed the goal line by millimeters before Naeher grabbed it.
“It felt like it was in slow motion,” she said. “I felt like I ended up diving past it, and I was just trying to get anything on it. Truthfully, I will go to my grave claiming that I saved it. You cannot convince me otherwise.”
Williams agreed with Naeher, saying she also thought the goalkeeper had made the save as she watched from the pitch with their USWNT teammates. And Naeher, for her part, still has a picture of the moment saved on her phone.
“I have looked at it an unhealthy amount of times since the game has ended,” she said. “I’ve watched it over and over.”
“There’s no space between the ball and the line,” Williams said.
“Like, I don’t think that you could convince me that [there was a goal],” Naeher continued. “I genuinely thought that I saved it.”
Even as the referee signaled that the shot had crossed the line, even as Sweden started to celebrate, Naeher could not believe it.
“When she blew the whistle and I watched them run, I don’t think I can describe the sinking feeling,” she said. “But it was the most bizarre way to end the game.”
When Williams watched the video of the penalty for the first time on the stadium screen, then saw Naeher “visible angry” with the result, the loss finally sunk in. Naeher rarely shows such anger, Williams said, so her emotion hammered home the reality of the defeat.
“It hits you all in one moment,” Naeher said. “But then it also then spreads out. And I think that anger, that emotion, that stuff… you know better than anybody how much time and energy gets put into the preparation for a tournament. What you sacrifice – time with family, time with friends – and it’s all worth it. You do it for those experiences. You do it for the honor to represent your country at a World Cup. That’s why you put in all that time.
“And obviously, no one game, no one tournament comes down to one play. But in that moment, it felt like we lost the World Cup by a millimeter.”