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U.S. ace reflects on being traded and on future with Red Stars, national team

By Gunnar Berndt

Chicago, Ill. – This National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) offseason, the Chicago Red Stars have made more moves than any of their competitors, and the biggest one thus far has been the acquisition of U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher from the Boston Breakers. In a recent interview, the 27-year-old discussed the trade, her new club and city, as well as her goals at the domestic and international levels.

On November 23, Chicago announced it had received the rights to Naeher from Boston in exchange for Whitney Engen and one pick each in the 2016 and 2017 College Drafts. The deal was intricately constructed by the Red Stars front office, as Engen had previously been acquired by way of sending Abby Erceg and Adriana Leon to Western New York Flash. Naeher now fills an urgent need for a side which found itself with just one netminder on the senior roster following the retirement of Canada legend Karina LeBlanc less than three months ago.

While the switch of clubs was unexpected for Chicago’s newest U.S. international, she didn’t take long to adopt a positive mindset about the changed situation.

“I wasn’t involved in the process,” said Naeher. “Basically the Breakers GM and coach at some point told me they were in talks and were considering trading me, which definitely came as a surprise since Boston is the only pro team I’ve played for in the U.S. But then I quickly looked at it as an opportunity. The Red Stars have a young team that made the playoffs this year and that seems headed in a great direction. I’m very excited for the new challenge because I know that sometimes you need to be taken out of your comfort zone to continue making progress.”

The 2014 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year speaks from experience. After starring for Penn State and then the Breakers in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), Naeher used that league’s 2012 collapse as inspiration to return to European giants Turbine Potsdam, for whom she had previously played on loan and whom she would go on to lead to the 2011-12 German Bundesliga crown.

By that time, the U.S. technical staff was well aware of Naeher, as she had been on then Head Coach Pia Sundhage’s radar since 2009. However, despite being a long-time member of the Stars and Stripes squad, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup champion has found caps hard to come by, thanks to a goalkeeper pool that ranks among the best on the planet and includes giant of the game Hope Solo and another superstar in Orlando Pride’s Ashlyn Harris.

An outstanding 90-minute performance in the recent 2-0 win over China and the fact both Solo and Harris are in their thirties should give Naeher hope she might be the future of Red, White and Blue shot-stopping. However, the Connecticut native has learned to be patient, work hard and focus on what she’s able to control.

“The national team is very important to me,” she said. “It’s not easy to get playing time over such world-class competition, but obviously you do want to play as much as possible once you’re at that level. That’s why I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to prove myself week-in and week-out in the NWSL. I believe that consistently performing at a high level for your club team is a crucial element to being ready for the international game.”

As for the domestic game, Naeher has her eyes set firmly on gelling with her new teammates once the preseason rolls around in early 2016. She is excited to be joining a Red Stars squad which comes off its first ever playoff appearance as a professional franchise and which features three of her U.S. teammates.

“Chicago was always a high-intensity, high-pressure team when we played them in the past,” Naeher said in remembering previous meetings between Boston and Head Coach Rory Dames’ side. “Obviously knowing several of the players from the national team helps. Julie (Johnston) is an excellent defender and Christen Press is so dangerous, and now I’ve also played with Danny Colaprico, who is a very talented, young player. I think all of them give us a very good foundation for success. For me, it will be all about getting to know the rest of the team and getting a better feel for the overall approach and philosophy”.

Away from the soccer pitch, the former Breakers star is excited for life in new surroundings. While she has been to Chicagoland on several occasions, she admits she will need some time and assistance to find out what the Windy City is all about.

Said Naeher, “In college we had games against Northwestern University (in Evanston, Illinois), and then obviously I’ve played several away games against the Red Stars in WPS and the NWSL. But those trips are always very short and don’t allow you to do much outside of soccer, so I’ll have to really explore Chicago when I get there. My Red Stars teammates on the national team have already told me a lot of good things. I look forward to finding out everything there is to do and see.”

Asked about short-term and long-term goals with her club, the netminder closed her remarks in a way that should have Red Stars fans chomping at the bit for the U.S. ace to arrive and help compensate for the loss of recently retired locker room leaders LeBlanc, Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx.

“When you come into a new team, there are established structures and personalities already there,” said Naeher. “It’s important to respect those and to integrate myself by working hard on the training field and by learning from the players who have been there longer. Once I earn my position on the team, I hope that I can use my experience and my other qualities to help the Red Stars take the next step. Since they made the postseason this year, to me that means getting to the final and trying to win the championship.”

Alyssa Naeher and her Chicago Red Stars will be battling for NWSL glory throughout 2016. Season tickets for the upcoming campaign at Toyota Park in Bridgeview may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-697-8699.

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