January 22, 2015
By Michael Lewis
Which goalkeeper should replace Hope Solo if she can't play in the WWC? Barnhart, Harris or Naeher
OK, let's assume the worst case scenario.
If Hope Solo (above) can't play for the USA in the Women's World Cup, head coach Jill Ellis has three possibilities -- Nicole Barnhart, Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Let's say Hope Solo bottoms out and doesn't backstop the United States at the Women's World Cup in Canada this June and July.
Just who will be her replacement?
The three obvious candidates in USWNT training camp at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, Calif. are, in alphabetical order, three women with National Women's Soccer League experience -- Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit) Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers).
On paper, it would look like Barnhart gets the early nod given her background and experience domestic and international.
Saying that, winning a starting job for any national team in the world, especially something as regal and special as the U.S. women's national side is earned.
No one, I repeat, no one is given anything on a silver platter.
There are so many questions to be answered:
* Who rises to the occasion and doesn't wilt under pressure?
* Who controls the penalty area the best?
* Who is best at catching crosses?
* Who is the best communicator?
* Who is the best distributor of the ball?
And so on.
So, let's take a quick look at the three keepers:
Barnhart is the most experienced hand of the bunch. The 33-year-old Pottstown, Pa. native has made 54 appearances for the red, white and blue since 2004. She hasn't played in one of the major tournaments -- the Summer Olympics or Women's World Cup -- but the 5-10 Barnhart has performed in CONCACAF WWC and Olympic qualifiers. The Stanford University graduate also backstopped FC Kansas City to the NWSL crown last season and has played 88 times professionally for the FC Gold Pride and Philadelphia Independence in the defunct Women's Professional Soccer and of course, KC.
Interesting footnote: While she attended Boyertown High School in Berks County, Pa., Barnhart played four years for the boys team, seeing some time in goal as well.
Harris, 29, who hails from Cocoa Beach, Fla., doesn't have as much international experience as Barnhart (four matches), but she has an intriguing background. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, the 5-9 Harris has played for Saint Louis Athletica and the Washington Freedom in the WPS and the Western New York Flash and most recently with the Washington Spirit in the NWSL.
Interesting footnote: Harris was the first four-time Parade All-American in U.S. women's high school soccer history.
Naeher, 26, of Seymour, Conn., is the "baby" of the bunch. She has played but once for the USA (in a 7-0 win over Argentina in the International Tournament of Brasilia Dec. 18), but has international experience at the U-16, U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels. She was the starting goalkeeper of the American team that captured the 2008 FIFA women's world championship, earning the golden glove honors as the best keeper of the competition. And Naeher has made 69 appearances for the Boston Breakers in two stints and two leagues after playing 39 times for German Bundesliga champion Turbine Potsdam from 2011-2013. She also was the NWSL goalkeeper of the year in 2014.
Interesting footnote: I would assume she is pretty good with her hands, considering the 5-9 Naeher scored more than 2,000 points as a high school basketball player at Christian Heritage School. I would like to think her distribution is pretty good as well.
Quite frankly, I would not blame U.S. national coach Jill Ellis if she jettisons Solo prior to the World Cup. She might have to make a decision soon so whoever she picks to replace Solo gets plenty of playing time to establish her confidence.
Given what has transpired with her off-the-field adventures -- Solo cannot be relied upon and a distraction. We don't know what will happen a week before the Women's World Cup.
And the last thing the Americans need in trying to secure their first world championship in 16 years -- now, that's almost a generation ago -- is a distraction from their ultimate goal.
If Ellis decides to go without Solo, so be it.
No one is bigger than the team, even someone who is considered the best women's goalkeeper in the world, if not the greatest of all time.
If Solo can't go, there certainly will be some big goalkeeper gloves to fill.
There are 129 days until the USA opens the WWC against Australia in Winnipeg on June 8.
Jill Ellis has a lot of thinking to do before now and then, perhaps the best important decisions of her soccer coaching career.