Naeher heroics crucial in dramatic USWNT victory – Kilgore

United States interim coach Twila Kilgore celebrated a “huge moment” from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher after a dramatic penalty-shootout victory over Canada in the Concacaf W Gold Cup semifinals at a waterlogged Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on Wednesday.

“Just stepping up in a huge moment to face a penalty at the end of the game like that and have to turn around and face a penalty shootout. It’s not easy to make three saves … and contribute to the goal tally,” Kilgore said.

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Naeher emerged as a hero in the 3-1 penalty shootout that saw her make three saves and score the second spot kick. However, it came after she committed a penalty in the final moments of extra time that provided a late equalizer from Canada’s Adriana Leon to make it 2-2.

“That just speaks volumes about her mentality,” Kilgore added.

Wednesday’s semifinal clash was tied at 1-1 after 90 minutes following goals from teenage USWNT forward Jaedyn Shaw and Canada forward Jordyn Huitema. An extra-time goal from Sophia Smith on 99 minutes put the USWNT ahead, until Leon’s penalty levelled the scores and forced a shootout, culminating in a U.S. victory.

The USWNT advance to Sunday’s inaugural tournament’s championship match where it faces Brazil at Snapdragon Stadium, although both sides will be hoping for a better playing surface after Wednesday’s rain-soaked field caused constant frustrations.

“It’s obvious that the game was unplayable,” Canada coach Bev Priestman said post-match. “We put in a lot of work in a game plan and within minute one, it’s thrown out the window.”

On whether the result was unjust, Priestman said the waterlogged pitch impacted their opponents as well.

“I’m not going to make excuses as to was it fair, was it unfair,” Priestman said. “We played the game in front of us, both teams had to play on the conditions and it was who could adapt the most.”

USWNT interim coach Twila Kilgore also echoed Priestman’s thoughts on the state of the field.

When asked if the game should have been played, Kilgore said: “Probably not, but those decisions aren’t my decisions and if the referees make those decisions, and the game goes on, it’s our job to figure out how to win.”

USWNT legend Julie Foudy also said the game should have been postponed.

“Why isnt CONCACAF calling this match. Play it tmrw. Someone is going to get hurt,” Foudy said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

When asked by ESPN if either the confederation or officiating crew were responsible for deciding if the game should have been played, a Concacaf spokesperson said: “It is solely at the discretion of the referee as to whether the field is safe and playable.”

Others, including referee and CBS Sports contributor Christina Unkel, have refuted that it was solely the officiating that make this choice.

“Technically and practically, by law, it is always in the ultimate decision of the referee to make that decision,” Unkel told CBS Sports’ broadcast.

“That being said, practically speaking, there is a match commissioner at each of these Concacaf matches and as we saw within the first early minutes of this [W Gold Cup semi] game, the referee went and demonstrated that the ball was not in fact rolling when she went over to near the fourth official station, which is where the match commissioner stands.

“I want to be very, very clear, it was very clear from her demonstrative showing that she does not necessarily think this is a safe condition but is being told to continue this match by that match commissioner.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Brazil defeated Mexico 3-0 in the other semifinal, setting up a highly anticipated championship match.

The USWNT have never lost a Concacaf tournament that they’ve participated in.