Alyssa Naeher's magic carries USWNT over the line as it lifts a seventh SheBelieves Cup in an epic final

A controversial late penalty given to Canada forced penalties in the SheBelieves Cup final, but the heroics of Alyssa Naeher and a finish from Emily Fox locked up the USWNT's second piece of silverware in 2024.
United States v Canada - 2024 SheBelieves Cup
United States v Canada - 2024 SheBelieves Cup / Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/GettyImages

Six words. Alyssa. Naeher. Straight up. Cold blooded.

That pretty much sums it up.

Down one in the first half for the second straight fixture, the USWNT showed off its resilience and tactical intelligence, beating rival Canada to secure even more hardware before Emma Hayes' official arrival, hoisting a fifth consecutive SheBelieves Cup. In the second encounter between these two in the span of 34 days, the Red, White, and Blue edged its neighbors to the north in a drama-filled penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw through 90 minutes.

Naeher was the heroine for the home side once again against Beverly Priestman's crew, acting as the backbone for the United States in the shootout. Similar to her March magic, the Chicago Red Stars superstar saved three spot kicks on top of beating the 2022 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year with a shot of her own. The USWNT's No. 1 is not phased one bit by the moment. Bright lights? No problem at all.

She's been there and done that, and it shows. Despite her being 35, there is no discussion whatsoever of a changing of the gloves anytime soon. Even in those penalties that Canada converted, the USWNT's No. 1 guessed the right way more often than not. Per Opta, the Connecticut native has saved penalties from six different Canadian penalty takers in 2024 so far.

"Now we're just at a point where we are tried, true, battle-tested. This is five games back-to-back against teams that have qualified for the Olympics," explained Kilgore.

Sophia Smith netted her second and third international goals of 2024, finishing off a swift USWNT move in the second half that was nearly the game-winner. Her versatility was on full display, acting as both a right winger and a number nine. The Portland Thorns forward finished off a brilliant sequence between five players as that striker which showed off Trinity Rodman and Jaedyn Shaw's creativity in distribution. The first one though was a legit piece of individual quality with her left boot. Kilgore agreed.

"The first goal was just class," stated the nation's interim sideline leader. "Sometimes individuals just do special things. It was a left-footed finish for Soph in a crowded box, just an exceptional moment, but also there's a big team concept there."

Canada opened up the scoring through a counterattack, catching the United States' backline napping. Adriana Leon, who would later net a spot kick to send the match into penalties converted the chance. The Aston Villa attacker moved into the top three of Canada's all-time scoring list with those two goals, surpassing 1998 Canadian Player of the Year Silvana Burtini.

With a double pivot of Sam Coffey and Emily Sonnett, the USWNT didn't create much of anything in the first half. Shaw was forced out wide to the left wing, pushing Lindsey Horan higher up the pitch behind Alex Morgan. The 19-year-old struggled to make an impact, and understandably so since she was tasked with a different role down in Atlanta to start.

Kilgore adapted at the halfway mark, subbing out the defensive-minded Coffey for Mallory Swanson. It moved Shaw into the number 10 role, and Horan back to a deeper position. With Shaw and Smith closer in proximity on the pitch, the Stars and Stripes' attack was brought to life.

Naeher acted as the rock between the posts after Leon tied it up from 12 yards out with four minutes left until the clock reached 90. Even with poorly taken penalties from Trinity Rodman and Emily Sonnett, others picked them up. Arsenal's Emily Fox converted the deciding penalty in her sixth straight start for her country.


Credit to the nation's interim manager. This was by no means a straightforward job. It was a unique one, to say the least, and in her final game, her tactical switch proved to be a key factor in the USWNT's second trophy since its elimination at the 2023 World Cup.

It was truly two different 45-minute periods of football. Tuesday featured a contest that demonstrated the importance of the team set up to the success seen between the white lines. In the group stages of the World Cup, rigid best described what we saw from the USWNT. Its tactical flexibility accompanied by a lively player pool of budding stars is a breath of fresh air, providing this group with essential momentum leading into a pressure-filled summer.

I know it's hard to believe, but the next time the USWNT takes the pitch, Hayes will be donning the red, white, and blue on the sideline.

South Korea comes to the States in early June for two friendlies in Colorado and Minnesota. The first match on June 1 will be broadcast on TNT, Universo, Max and Peacock at 5 p.m. EST.

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