The 2019 World Cup kicks off on Friday, with the U.S. Women’s National Team chasing a second straight global crown.
Goalkeepers are sure to play a pivotal role in this month’s tournament in France. Check out the top 10 goalkeepers set to take the field for their respective countries over the next few weeks and beyond.
1. Alyssa Naeher / USA
For the first time in a long time, the US doesn’t have a clear claim to the top. The former Penn State Nittany Lion enters this summer on a positive note with the Chicago Red Stars but some lingering issues could be a thorn in her side. Naeher has struggled in 1v1s in the past and can overprotect her front post on sharper angles. Typically she has the raw power to solve tight situations and with the strongest defenders in the tournament, she shouldn’t see too many high scoring opportunities. In 2015, Solo had almost nothing to do and if a similar defensive effort is put in front of Naeher, she’ll cruise to golden glove award. If not, she’ll have to show everyone why she’s been given the keys to one of the more coveted positions in soccer. Naeher is certainly capable of being the best goalkeeper in the world, but her performances this summer will determine if she’s worthy of the accolade.
2. Stephanie Labbé / Canada
Agility is the name of Labbé’s game. For any save that requires quick footwork to keep the scoreline as is, Labbé is at the top of the stack. 2018 NWSL champs North Carolina Courage were so impressed with her game, they brought her in for the 2019 season after losing only match in 2018. Labbé can get into trouble with hesitating - specifically in scrambles in the box or 1v1s - but she’s succeeded at the highest heights and the World Cup will be a familiar level of play for her. Due to injuries, Canada has replaced 36 year old Erin McLeod with Sabrina D'Angelo (Vittsjö GIK) and Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue FC). Try to make it sound like McLeod should have been there but they’ll have decent goalkeepers to lean on without her.
3. Karen Bardsley / England
One of the few starting goalkeepers returning from the 2015 World Cup, the Cal State Fullerton alum is a part of the strongest goalkeeping core the tournament has to offer. Chelsea’s Carly Telford and Wolfsburg’s Mary Earps join Bardsley in a tightly contested battle for the starting spot but Phil Neville named Bardsley as the number one. The 34-year-old has lost a little bit of a step at this point in her career so while she may not have as many explosive saves in the past, her steadiness, tall frame, and lack of errors will help England make a deep run.
4. Sandra Paños / Spain
The Barcelona goalkeeper was recently put on center stage in the 4-1 loss to Lyon in the Champions League Final. For first-time viewers, Paños’ play may have felt lacking but rewind to her performances against Bayern in the semifinals and skeptics may see what she brings to the table. Two shutouts in close-fought matches, including this save of the year candidate in the 72nd minute to keep Bayern off the scoreboard. Incredibly balanced and patient, Paños is inclined to hug her line, daring shooters to beat her wide. While she didn’t find much success against Lyon, the 26-year-old enters the tournament with a carefree spring in her step that can produce some big-time performances.
5. Sarah Bouhaddi / France
The 32-year-old is coming right off a Champions League run and let’s just say she’s fairly accustomed to winning. Bouhaddi has given up two goals in a game just once in the last 20 months. The 1-0 loss to Germany in February was something of note as Bouhaddi’s previous last loss was in July of 2017, ending a 52 undefeated game streak spanning across club and country. If there is one concerning area of her play, it can be traced back to her confidence which can actually end up causing her to overplay her hand, as we saw against Colombia last World Cup. The aging French sweeper keeper doesn’t have a ton of mobility and can make certain situations more troublesome than need be. Crossing situations aren’t her forte and close range shots can end up sneaking through her as well (see the goal against Barcelona for reference). If Bouhaddi plays within herself, don’t be surprised to see this habitual winner on the final podium.
6. Lydia Williams / Australia
Williams is known for gambling with a high line. Her balance, ability to read a situation, and never being shy to confront a striker lead to some exciting saves. However, her forwardness can put her in hot water as her post-to-post time isn’t one that impresses, leaving her open for a well-placed chip. While her time in NWSL has been a mixed bag, she led Melbourne Victory to a semifinal finish last winter before coming back to the Seattle Reign. A fierce goalkeeper who’s willing to put her body on the line, she’s a dark horse candidate for Goalkeeper of the Tournament if things line up for Australia.
7. Almuth Schult / Germany
For those who remember the goalkeeping situation for Spain going into the 2014 World Cup, Germany is in a similar spot this summer. Back in 2014, Spain named Real Madrid starter Iker Casillas (33, at the time) as the number one despite some worrying performances heading into the tournament. Both Casillas and now Schult had/have the talent to be a top goalkeeper, but current form was not something either possessed heading into the biggest stage. Recently, Schult misplaced two passes against Japan, both leading to goals in the 2-2 tie, and an underwhelming pair of performances against Lyon have surrounded Schult with a number of question marks. Despite the rising concerns on the eve of the tournament, if she can get back into a positive head space, look for Germany to capitalize off her momentum. If not, don’t be surprised if Germany takes an early exit due to poor goalkeeping.
8. Loes Geurts / Netherlands
One of the more tightly contested battles for the starting spot, Geurts started in goal in the final World Cup qualifying legs for the Netherlands back in October, a 4-1 aggregate win over Denmark. Geurts is one of the more technically sound goalkeepers in the tournament, which helps make up for her lack of athleticism in goal. Her movement and decisions to parry or catch a ball are almost always perfectly timed and played out. However Geurts can be a bit of a polarizing goalkeeper by making tough situations look easy while simply not being able to make the top class saves. Would lanky Arsenal goalkeeper - and penalty specialist - Sari van Veenendaal be a step up over the 33-year-old goalkeeper? Perhaps, but when nerves start to bubble up, having a goalkeeper with over 120 caps isn’t a bad option.
9. Christiane Endler / Chile
Out of all the goalkeepers to see their stock rise over the last year, Endler is quickly becoming a new favorite for many goalkeeping enthusiasts. Chile is predicted to finish last in the group but if you expect to see Endler unsettled when her team is getting pummeled, think again. Endler thrives when the odds aren’t in her favor. The Chilean goalkeeper is one of the more acrobatic and aggressive goalkeepers in the tournament, showcasing her talents best as a 1v1 specialist. Recently, the Netherlands showed the blueprint for beating Endler: simply don’t get her involved and just go around her. With multiple goals coming from slotted balls and one where Endler gets dribbled around, it’ll be a tall order to possess that much poise in the 18 but for countries not looking to create a Chilean cinderella story, it’ll be key.
10. Aline / Brazil
When you hear “raw” as a term to describe a goalkeeper, perhaps the best visual example of this is came last March when Aline dropped a cross in the box then followed up the error with a sprawling save with her face. Sitting on just ten caps after taking time away from the professional game, Aline is certainly the biggest wildcard heading into the tournament and her team will need all the help they can get. Scoring just six goals in the last ten games and losing their last seven, Brazil are limping into the World Cup and will have a tough task with Australia and surging Italy. The 2008 All-American (UCF) has taken an odd path to get to this place but could be a surprising aide to turn Brazil back towards success.
Bill Reno is a goalkeeping enthusiast who covers the tops levels of American goalkeepers. You can find more of his writings at Everybody Soccer or reach him @letsallsoccer if you have an itch to discuss the US goalkeeping pool or the advantages of a tophand save.