The May Player of the Month continued to rise to the occassion all season
CHICAGO – In November 2015, after three seasons with the Boston Breakers, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher packed her bags and headed to the Midwest, where she would start in goal for the Chicago Red Stars.
Before being acquired by Chicago, Naeher was named the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League Goalkeeper of the Year after setting a league record of 106 saves. In 2015, Naeher finished second with 65 saves, despite only making 12 appearances due to international duty in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
With the Red Stars, Naeher continued to excel with her talents, earning her first Player of the Month title for the month of May. Along with the Red Stars defensive unit, Naeher set a new NWSL record with a 485-minute shutout streak from April 16 to May 22. Allowing just one goal in four matches and posting three shutouts during the month, Naeher combined for 17 saves.
But what about those three clean sheets gave Naeher the title that only two other goalkeepers have ever won?
Just before May 2016, Chicago defeated Western New York 1-0 on April 23, nabbing their first win of the season in their home opener at Toyota Park. Naeher recorded a season-high six saves during the match.
Here are the three matches that began the NWSL shutout streak and earned Naeher POTM:
WEEK 3: CHI 1 – ORL 0
Chicago welcomed newest expansion team, the Orlando Pride, to Toyota Park on May 1. Naeher and her relentless backline helped shutout Orlando, who were coming off a three goal game against the Houston Dash.
In Morgan’s two previous games, she managed to earn a goal after releasing five shots on frame. At the time, the U.S. international had eight international goals and has continued to lead the USWNT with 15 goals in 2016 thus far. However, Chicago’s defensive four would allow just one shot to Morgan.
After the defense took care of Morgan, it was Naeher’s turn to showcase some amazing saves with Orlando threatening to score. She did just that after denying Sarah Hagen, who executed a perfect diving header, and was there to smother the ball before it was able to get past the goal line.
The win would help Chicago jump to the second-place position in league standings.
WEEK 4: CHI 1 – BOS 0
Chicago traveled to face the Boston Breakers, as Naeher made it back to a familiar pitch. Naeher would now be defending against Kristie Mewis, Kyah Simon and then Boston forward Stephanie McCaffrey, players she knew very well.
With only two saves during the 1-0 victory against her former team, Naeher saved Chicago from what could have equalized the match.
In second half stoppage time, a ball was lofted into the 18-yard box, landing to the outstretched foot of Mewis. With a touch past her defender, Mewis would be immediately intervened by Sam Johnson and Sofia Huerta, while Naeher would dive into the commotion to smother the ball from making any equalizing damage.
Naeher would take the upper edge against Boston, taking a win from her former team.
WEEK 5: CHI 0 – FCKC 0
For the third week in a row, Naeher and Chicago would come away without conceding a goal.
The final shutout in May proved to be one of Naeher’s best performances of the season. In a 0-0 draw against FC Kansas City, Naeher made five saves to keep the game scoreless on her end, denying offensive threats like Yael Averbuch and Shea Groom, who had both tallied a goal already in the season.
In one moment of the match, Groom managed to complete a diving header within point-blank range of the goal, but Naeher was in the right place at the right time, blocking the shot to keep the game level. After her extraordinary saves against FC Kansas City, Naeher was voted Player of the Week.
May would just be the start of Naeher’s success with the Red Stars. She brought her tenacious saving ability to Chicago, earning three more shutouts during the season, which would tie for the most in the league in 2016.