About a year-and-a-half ago, when Alyssa Naeher began consistently landing on the roster for the U.S. women’s national soccer team as its goalkeeper, her NC-based twin sister began consistently padding her bank account.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna start putting stuff aside, because if she makes this (2019 World Cup) roster, I’m going,’” said Amanda Naeher, 31, of Charlotte.
Her “France Fund” grew. The worst-case scenario, Amanda Naeher thought, would be a vacation. Best-case, of course, would be watching her sister play in the biggest soccer stage in the world — in person.
“It worked out great,” Amanda Naeher said.
Probably even better than she expected.
The former Charlotte Eagles star has spent the past month in Europe while on her summer break from Charlotte Christian, where she has taught physical education to grades K-5 and coached the varsity girls’ soccer team since 2011.
She has cheered her twin from the stands at all seven of the United States’ wins — including Sunday’s 2-0 victory over the Netherlands that gave the Americans their fourth Women’s World Cup title.
Alyssa Naeher started all seven games and kept clean sheets in four of them.
As confetti covered the field Sunday, and teammates reveled inside Stade de Lyon in Décines-Charpieu, France, Alyssa Naeher jogged to where her sister and their parents were sitting (fourth row, right next to the bench).
Amanda Naeher tossed her the American flag she had brought to every game, gave her a hug, and said, “Hey, congrats, I love you, go enjoy it.” Then Alyssa Naeher rejoined the on-field celebration draped in the flag her sister gave her.
And yet as special as that was, there were moments that were just as emotional, if not more so, for Amanda Naeher over the course of the Cup run. She spoke to the Observer Monday during a Facetime call — the day before she returned to the United States for the first time since June 9.
Q. Congratulations! I guess? I know you didn’t actually play, but —
A: I appreciate that. (Laughs.) I’m — we’re super-stoked, yeah.
Q. So how did everyone celebrate?
A: U.S. Soccer hosted a big party last night at a venue where they had all the family and friends of all the players, and the players got to join us. It was just a big dance party. It was a huge celebration. The players have been cooped up inside for a long time, living the hotel life for the last month, so it was fun to see them get out and enjoy the moment.
Q. Well, before we get more into your experience over there, can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with Alyssa, but also with your younger sister Abigail, who I understand lives in Charlotte, too? (Abigail Korman and her husband, Matt Korman, moved to Charlotte in 2017, when Matt was hired as Charlotte Christian’s head strength and conditioning coach.)
A: She does, yeah, and it’s been fun over the last couple years specifically to grow in friendships with each other, and not just kind of feeling like we’re stuck together because of being sisters. Growing up, Abigail was four years younger, and Alyssa and I being twins, Abigail would say she felt excluded a lot from the playing and all of that. So I think her moving to Charlotte has been — at least on my side — phenomenal for building a friendship as adults. We see each other three days a week, and go to church together, and spend dinner together, and she’s got my little niece (Annette, age 16 months) and nephew (Judah, who turned 4 on Sunday).
And then with Alyssa, her and I, growing up, we were super-competitive with each other, and we were always doing sports, and we were always playing, and it kind of went from little kids playing all the time to college, where we were competing, but we were competing and were in different places. (Alyssa played at Penn State, Amanda at Division III powerhouse Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa.)
So as adults now, it’s been fun to reconnect. She’s got a room at my house whenever she needs it, and she loves our niece and nephew, and she loves coming back and just sitting and spoiling them and spending time with them. It’s been really special to have kind of the three of us in the same city in the last two years. (Note: Amanda says Alyssa has come to stay in Charlotte for extended periods of time over the last two years, using the city as a home base when on breaks from the national team and from guarding the goal for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.)
Q. Did Abigail play soccer, too?
A: She did not. She ran cross-country and played tennis, but she never did soccer. She did basketball for a little bit, too.
Q. Is Abigail over there in France with you?
A: She was here for about eight days, and then she had to go back. So they were here for the first-round knockout game (against Spain, on June 24), and then the quarterfinal against France (on June 28).
Q. So who have you been hanging with?
A: It’s been a bit of a mix. My parents and I both flew out of New York together, and they have been here the whole time, too. And my dad was leading a trip from school, so the first 10 days I was floating in with that group. (Note: John Naeher is director of student life and operations at Christian Heritage, the Trumbull, Conn. school the three sisters attended growing up.)
We just explored different parts of France. We were all the way up in Normandy, and then we were over by Paris for a couple days, and then I actually snuck over to Rome in the middle of that whole thing for two days.
The week that Abigail was here, we stayed at a country farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. ... I’ve actually spent more time here with the husbands and the siblings of the players. We’ve been here together at this point for two or three weeks all traveling together, so there’s a fun little contingency of supporters for all of the girls.
Q. Tell me about the highlights of your trip as they pertain to soccer.
A: The first thing that comes to my mind is — I get chills even just thinking about it — the French game, the quarterfinal game. It was one of the coolest soccer environments I have ever experienced in my life. I don’t know what it was like to watch on television, but in the stadium with 45,000 people, and the way that they cheer and support and yell the whole time ... the energy of that game was just unreal. Our girls played so hard, they played so hard. Our fans were excited, their fans were excited. I mean, it was just loud. Loud.
And the semifinal game (the 2-1 win over England) was equally incredible. In the first half of that game, Alyssa made an unbelievable save. She dove out and stretched out to her left, and it’s the one that no one’s really talking about because of the PK (penalty kick save) that happened later. But in my opinion, that one in the first half was even bigger. ...
I jumped up and punched, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, that was incredible!” But I almost sat down because no one else was really cheering — I was like, maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Then obviously the PK save is what people are talking about. It’s what drew the excitement. I think what you have to understand, that’s a huge moment. You’re not supposed to make that save. ... And so I think in that moment, it was just like, Gosh, all of the training and all of the preparation that she had done to be prepared for that moment (paid off). ... Then to see everybody rush towards her at the end of the game, that was really cool.
Q. Do you think that, in some ways, those saves were vindication for her, just given all the people who doubted that she belonged in that role?
A: Alyssa is somebody that is completely true to herself. She really does a good job of drowning out the noise. Honestly, I know what she’s capable of. I’ve seen her do the work. I’ve seen her in big moments. Not necessarily on that stage, but I’ve seen her come through. ... I think the hard part is the world hadn’t gotten to see that yet, and she is following in big shoes. (She replaced Hope Solo after being her backup for years.) ...
So I think for her it was almost just like, “Alright, that was my moment. I get to” — it’s not even about hushing the naysayers, but, “I got to show people what I’m capable of, and I got to show my teammates that I can have their back in those big moments.”
Q. Did you take tons of photos and video to document the trip?
A: I’m not good at either one of those things, but a friend of mine gave me a travel journal before I left and said, “Look, I know this isn’t your thing, but you’re gone for 30 days. You gotta write it down. Because you’re not gonna remember the details and the moments.” So I’ve been very good about it, and every night I recap the day.
Q. Well, what’s the longest entry you wrote about something super-meaningful that happened?
A: Gosh, I’m still emotional from a lot of this stuff. (Pauses, fighting back tears.) I think the game that all of us were able to be at — my sister and my mom and everybody. That was the Spain game. We were able to hand down my nephew after, and he just wrapped her up in the biggest hug. I mean, she has a really, really special relationship with our nephew. She loves him.
Then I gave her a hug. My sister gave her a hug. My mom gave her a hug. It was her big moment, and we all got to experience it together. It was like, “Hey, this is what it’s about for us.” So that was the longest entry, because I was trying to just remember the feeling, the moments. ...
And I think each time they played the national anthem, getting to see her out there, representing her country, friends, her family ... that was powerful for sure. Just understanding the magnitude of the moments and the stage that she’s on, and a platform that hopefully she now has to share her story and to share her experiences. People are listening.
And the media’s a funny thing — I would say maybe a week ago, people would not have been as excited to ask her questions, but now her platform has changed, so I’m just excited to see how she uses that platform to share her beliefs and her story with everybody else.
Q. What do you mean when you say a week ago they might not have been as excited to ask her questions?
A: I think to your point earlier about how, a week ago, she still was kind of this unknown. There are a lot more personalities on the team that enjoy the media presence, and they like the interactions with the fans, and they do a good job of interacting and being on Twitter, being on Instagram, or being in front of a camera — whereas Alyssa definitely shies away from that. She will not be the first one to run up and do a media thing. She’ll do it, obviously, because she has to, and she’s very well-spoken, she just doesn’t need to do that.
But I think because of the lack of big moments for her coming up to this, people probably haven’t thought too much about asking her a ton of pointed questions. But again, a week ago, when she made that save, all of a sudden, now everybody wanted to ask her questions and talk with her. Her name changed. I mean, I’m not even important and I got about 500 new followers on social media, because my name is associated with hers. So, it just — it changed. It changed a week ago, when she had her moment.
Q. And last thing: Are you looking forward to being home a little bit?
A: Yeah, I think so. I’m spending a couple days in Connecticut, visiting with the rest of my family who wasn’t able to make it. Then I’ll be back in Charlotte on Saturday. It’s been a great adventure. But I’m ready definitely for my own bed — and being able to order a meal knowing what it is. The food is really good here, but it’s a little bit of an adventure figuring out what you’re gonna get. So yeah, I’ll get some Chick-fil-A when I get back.
Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theodenjanes