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NWSL Playoff Quarter-Finals: Who would want to be a goalkeeper?

Every goalkeeper involved this past weekend either came out as the hero or the unfortunate villain of their team

NWSL: Chicago Red Stars at San Diego Wave FC Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

Goalkeeping may be, possibly is, the one position all of us involved in the sport still cannot fully grasp. AllForXI spoke to four goalkeepers (Hedvig Lindahl, Kailen Sheridan, Casey Murphy and Emily Alvarado) to better understand the position and when the quarter-finals of the NWSL Playoffs rolled around, the goalkeepers took center stage.

Adrianna Franch, Alyssa Naeher, Jane Campbell and Kailen Sheridan were the four goalkeepers in action over the weekend and each of them showed up for all the right (and wrong reasons) for their team.

Jane Campbell vs AD Franch

In the first playoff match this weekend, Jane Campbell and the Houston Dash hosted KC Current as both teams looked to book their semi-final berth against OL Reign. In goal for the Current was AD Franch and both she, and Campbell, had to be at their very best in a game that went deep into stoppage time before we got a winner.

Campbell was the first to be tested early as her team conceded a penalty. Lo’eau LaBonta got the better of Campbell on that occasion but that was the last time Campbell was beaten. The winner for KC came through no fault of Campbell as a slick move by the visitors bypassed the Dash backline and left Jane Campbell with no chance of saving the last-gasp winner from Kate Del Fava.

NWSL: Kansas City Current at Houston Dash Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Franch on the other hand, was constantly peppered by Houston as they looked for an equaliser first and then tried to find a winner in front of a record-breaking crowd. The Dash equaliser may be partially laid at Franch’s feet as her effort to clear a corner didn’t get enough distance on it and landed at Sophie Schmidt’s feet, but Schmidt’s finish was well-executed and came through a crowd of players; making it difficult for Franch to stop the goal.

NWSL: Kansas City Current at Houston Dash Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After that though, both Campbell and Franch were electric to watch.

Every time they were called upon to either stop a potential goal-scoring opportunity or to use their abilities to keep the ball out of the back of the net, they both met those calls superbly. In the end, Franch came out on top as her team did just enough to find a 90+10’ minute winner to advance to the semi-finals. Neither goalkeeper can look back on their performances here and be disappointed, however it’ll be AD Franch who will be looking to replicate this form against OL Reign this weekend.

Kailen Sheridan vs Alyssa Naeher

Once again, two of the best goalkeepers in the league went head-to-head with their teams to try and book their place in the semi-finals of the NWSL Playoffs. Kailen Sheridan and the San Diego Wave welcomed Alyssa Naeher and the Chicago Red Stars in the late game on Sunday night and both were expected to make the necessary contributions throughout the match to help their team to win.

It didn’t start off well for Kailen Sheridan.

NWSL: Chicago Red Stars at San Diego Wave FC Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

Sheridan, who likes to join her team’s possession-orientated style, was caught out by Yuki Nagasato as she tried to find a teammate with only the goal behind her. The pass from Sheridan didn’t have enough to find one of her teammates and before she could set herself for the shot, Nagasato had chipped the ball over Sheridan’s head and into the empty net. Considering how last season, a similar mistake from Sheridan had cost Gotham FC their chance to make the next round in the playoffs, this was not how Kailen Sheridan would’ve wanted her night to go.

As the game wore on, she was forced to watch as her teammates could not find a way past Alyssa Naeher, who when needed, produced solid saves to keep her team ahead. In fact, Naeher wasn’t called into action all that often at first because Chicago were doing very well in keeping San Diego at bay while also threatening Sheridan’s goal as well.

As the second half rolled on and on we went into extra time, that story changed as San Diego made tactical adjustments to break through Chicago and the Red Stars themselves began to tire. Naeher was beginning to see more action in and around her penalty area but she was undeterred by the pressure and despite conceding the equaliser, continued to be in impressive form.

NWSL: Chicago Red Stars at San Diego Wave FC Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

That’s why when San Diego scored the winner deep in extra time, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Naeher because she had been outstanding throughout the season and throughout the match. The one time she needed a strong had on a shot (by Alex Morgan), she failed to do so and watched as the ball squirmed underneath her arm and into the far corner, giving the win to San Diego.

All four of the goalkeepers involved this past weekend have been bright spots for their teams and have helped their teams make the playoffs but such is the life of a goalkeeper that mistakes are often more remembered than any great save they make. Franch and Sheridan will look to another weekend of NWSL action with their teams while Campbell and Naeher will be left to wonder what could have been.