CHICAGO — The 2019 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season opener is a matchup all-too-familiar to the Chicago Red Stars, who begin their season against the North Carolina Courage, the 2018 NWSL Champions and the team Chicago has faced in the past two semifinals. A multitude of players on each side have the ability to be the impact player but in goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, Chicago has one of the few players who has proven to slow down the Courage during their run to the championship last season.
Naeher’s best statistical game in 2018 was against the defending champions on their turf. The Courage came into the game against the Red Stars dominating their opponents. They won all six of their previous games, scoring a total of nine goals throughout the perfect run. When Naeher and the Red Stars visited WakeMed Soccer Park, the goalkeeper allowed just one goal despite the Courage tallying 42 shots that game. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, the first time the Courage left without all three points, and Naeher’s terrific performance earned her NWSL Player of the Week Honors.
In four games against the Courage last year, Naeher had 22 saves. North Carolina’s offense hasn’t slowed down since they were crowned champions, returning NWSL Championship MVP Jessica McDonald and Golden Boot runner-up Lynn Williams to go alongside Brazilian midfielder Debinha and U.S. WNT standout Crystal Dunn in the midfield. That group of players can run up the score against the best teams in the world, but with Naeher already showcasing her ability to stifle them, she is the player to keep an eye on as the NWSL Season begins.