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Naeher stars as USA Dare to Shine the brightest

  • A 30th birthday to remember for Alex Morgan as USA reach Final
  • Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher steals the headlines with crucial penalty save
  • Christen Press makes immediate impact in place of superstar Megan Rapinoe

By Erin Fish with USA

A match-winning goal, a trip to the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Final and a piece of birthday cake delivered by FIFA President Gianni Infantino. It was quite a 30th birthday for Alex Morgan.

USA captain Morgan scored what proved to be the winner in an epic 2-1 victory over England leaving the forward set to play in her third consecutive World Cup Final. As if that wasn’t enough, Morgan had happy birthday sung to her by the USA fans as well as the entire squad, and she also won the Visa Player of the Match.

But Morgan felt she wasn’t the one who truly deserved it, despite her key contribution.

“Alyssa Naeher, she should be the player of the match today,” Morgan said. “She saved our butts today.”

Naeher, who faced some criticism after the match against Spain, made multiple saves for USA in the past two matches, having barely been called into action during the group stage.

But her most crucial save of the tournament so far came when a VAR decision resulted in a penalty awarded against defender Becky Sauerbrunn. Steph Houghton took the spot-kick seeking to draw England level and force extra time, only for Naeher to make the block and become the first USA goalkeeper to save a penalty during a Women’s World Cup match.

And while the theme of the tournament is ‘Dare to Shine’, Jill Ellis has decreed a new mantra, telling her players to “Dare to shine the brightest”.

“I said to her after the game tonight that she shined tonight, she was the brightest,” Ellis said. “I give her full credit. She’s a tremendous person. She’s making her own mark and creating her own legacy, and that’s fantastic.”

Naeher, however, was far from the only USA player to shine in the hard-fought victory. With star player Megan Rapinoe out with a hamstring injury, Christen Press stepped up as a starter and didn’t miss a beat.

In every match so far at France 2019, USA has scored within the first 12 minutes. Press became the latest contributor by netting in the 10th minute to give the Stars and Stripes an important early lead.

Ellis always likes to say she doesn’t think of this team as having a starting XI, but as having 14 or 15 players that could start and that depth showed in Lyon when it was most needed.

Dare to shine the brightest indeed.

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