Naeher Or Nothing? Ranking The Best Goalkeepers In Women's Football
As a semi-active goalkeeper and current goalkeeper coach, I pride myself on being knowledgeable about all things goalkeeping. But early on into this project, I realized I was in over my head. My goalkeeper expertise was far outweighed by my previous lack of knowledge on women's soccer.
I couldn't rank the top ten women's goalkeepers because I couldn't even name ten of them. I was humbled and also disappointed in myself, but I set out to rectify the situation by producing the best damn rankings of women's goalkeepers I possibly could.
Along the way, I learned two important things.
First: I came to appreciate how many exceptional goalkeepers play in the NWSL: Sarah Bouhaddi, Ashlynn Harris, Alyssa Naeher, Adrianna French, and Kailen Sheridan all made the top 10; Bledsoe and Murphy made honorable mention, and let's not forget about OL Reign's Karen Bardsley (81 England caps).
Furthermore: goalkeepers are already an underappreciated position, but combine that with women's soccer — which has a dearth of statistics — and the information available on these phenomenal goalkeepers is next to non-existent.
The NWSL tracks saves, shots on target faced, and save percentage, while the WSL thankfully has all the same goalkeeping stats as the Premier League, including the ever-useful post-shot expected goals. But any goalkeeper playing outside these leagues? The only available stat of significance is clean sheets (which is still a flawed figure to use).
And then there's Peng Shimeng of China — one of the best young keepers in the world — whose Wikipedia page is a full two lines long and whose club statistics are not attainable anywhere.
I spent many hours digging through statistics and studying highlights to understand who these keepers were — determining their strengths and weaknesses and comparing their abilities.
I won't call myself an expert — that's an affront to the people that live and breath women's soccer — but I have a newfound understanding of the game and an appreciation for the abundance of talented goalkeepers that populate the sport.
Just Missed the Cut
Manuela Zinsberger (Austria, Arsenal), Hedvig Lindahl (Sweden, Atletico Madrid)
(In no particular order)
Casey Murphy, Aubrey Bledsoe
United States; North Carolina Courage, Washington Spirit
Bledsoe and Murphy both fall under the category of American keepers that would be automatic starters for any other country. Instead, they are the fourth and fifth choice for the USWNT.
Bledsoe has captured back-to-back NWSL keeper of the year honors and won an NWSL title with Washington. She has lightning-quick reflexes and a 43% clean sheet percentage over the last three years in NWSL and W-League (Australia). Still, she hasn't even earned her first USWNT cap.
Speaking of USWNT caps, Casey Murphy made her international debut over the holiday period. She impressed in a 3-0 win over Australia that was much closer than the scoreline suggests thanks to a couple of big saves from the 6 feet 1 inch shot-stopper. Murphy was traded for Crystal Dunn last year and went on to lead the NWSL in shutouts — a further sign of her value.
England, Manchester City
If there's one keeper on this list destined to make a big jump in the next few years it is Roebuck. The 22-year-old has 21 FA Women's Super League (WSL) shutouts over the last two seasons but has battled with inconsistency at times. She led the WSL with 6.2 fewer goals allowed than expected in 19/20 but gave up two more goals than expected in 20/21.
Without Roebuck in the lineup this season (she is currently out with a calf injury) Man City has lost four matches — the same number of defeats Roebuck has suffered in three seasons as a starter. The England keeper needs to improve aerially, but she excels as a sweeper and has elite reflexes.
What to make of Almuth Schult? She was named IFFHS women's goalkeeper of the decade for the 2010s, reached an 89 overall in FIFA 20, and won just about every competition out there for club and country. Schult was at her peak, then in 2019, she put her career on hold to become the only mother in the Bundesliga.
She played just two matches for Wolfsburg over the next two seasons before regaining her starting role this year, yet still has not returned to the German national side. Can she have a late-career renaissance à la Manuel Neuer? Come the end of the season Schult could easily be back in the top 10.
Laura Benkarth, Merle Frohms
Germany; Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt
The U.S. isn't the only country that has more goalkeepers than it knows what to do with, as four German keepers are represented on this list. Benkarth had 16 shutouts in 20 Bundesliga appearances last year for Bayern, but as the German third choice, she is the Bernd Leno of the national side.
If Benkarth is Leno, then Frohms is the Ter-Stegen of the German women's side, a fearless keeper finally getting her shot as a starter with Schult out.
Nicknamed "The Great Wall of China," Shimeng broke through nine saves and player of the match accolades against Spain at the 2019 World Cup. The 23-year-old isn't as flashy or athletic as other keepers on this list but has 30 international caps to her name thanks to her exceptional lateral movement.
Top 11 Women's Goalkeepers
You were expected a top 10, right? Simply put: there was too much talent to confine this list to 10 players. You can thank Ann-Katrin Berger's highlight reel for that.
11) Ann-Katrin Berger
Chelsea's defeat to Arsenal to open the season was a shock for the defending champions, who finished nine points above the Gunners last year. But it was even more surprising for Blues goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger, as it marked her first league defeat since Nov. 2018. During that 32-game stretch, Berger had as many shutouts as goals allowed (18) and led Chelsea to two consecutive WSL titles.
Berger helped Chelsea set records for most wins and most points in the WSL in 20/21 while winning the Golden Glove award. The German also led the WSL with 4.2 fewer goals allowed than expected last year and claimed the highest percentage of crosses in the six-yard area.
Her only real weakness is coming off her line. If the German makes that adjustment she is a top five keeper.
10) Ashlyn Harris
United States, Orlando Pride
During her sophomore year at the University of North Carolina, Harris tore the labrum on her right hip while hitting a goal kick. Instead of waiting the recommended recovery time (anywhere from two to six months), Harris simply started kicking with her weaker left foot.
Among the 36-year-old's other accolades: Harris holds the all-time NWSL save record (which she set back in August) and she practically invented the NSWL save of the week award — totaling six such honors this year and a league-best 29 across her career.
Her 15.7% clean sheet percentage in NWSL over the last eight seasons is a bit concerning, but we can overlook that stat given the lack of talent on her teams (she has more bottom three finishes than top-half finishes in the NWSL).
9) Mackenzie Arnold
Australia, West Ham
Arnold is the epitome of a modern goalkeeper; she is excellent in 1v1 situations and even better at coming off her line — leading the WSL keepers last year in number of defensive actions outside the penalty area. She also saved two penalties in one match against Man City while allowing 2.3 goals fewer than expected overall.
Somehow she is still not Australia's number one, which is a travesty. Lydia Williams is good, but Arnold is the best keeper down under.
8) Kailen Sheridan
Canada, Gotham FC
Sheridan was the highest-rated goalkeeper in NWSL this season per FotMob, and she led the league in save percentage with a phenomenal 89%. Her success followed a strong NWSL Challenge Cup showing last year when the Canadian won the Golden Glove award.
What is most impressive about Sheridan is her 1v1 technique. She gets off her line quickly, spreads herself big, and smothers any another shooting opportunity for the opponent. Sheridan may not be a regular for Canada thanks to Stephanie Labbé, but she is more than deserving of a spot on this list.
7) Adrianna Franch
United States, Kansas City Current
The United States' goalkeeper depth is such that the third choice keeper for the national team is still one of the best in the world. Franch — NWSL goalkeeper of the year in 2017 and 2018 — has explosive leaping ability and has an uncanny ability to cover the whole goal. She has great handling too — especially in traffic.
Harris and Naeher are the established names, but in terms of talent, Franch is as good as either one of them (and better than Harris, in my opinion). She just needs more opportunities to start.
6) Sarah Bouhaddi
France, Olympique Lyon (on loan at OL Reign)
Bouhaddi is a veteran of nearly two decades still playing at the highest level, as demonstrated by her spot in the 2020 UEFA.com fans' Women's Team of the Year. She's kept clean sheets in 78% of her Division 1 Féminine matches over the last four seasons — which makes it a bit difficult to analyze her simply because she doesn't face many shots.
The Lyon keeper has good reactions, confident handling, and a strong leg, plus she scored the winning penalty in the 2017 UWCL Final. The French keeper is slightly removed from her peak — she won three consecutive IFFHS goalkeeper of the year awards from 2016 to 2018 — but she is still elite nonetheless.
5) Stephanie Labbé
Labbé made headlines in 2018 when she tried to join the men's Premier Development League side Calgary Foothills. While she was denied entry by the league, Labbé's disappointment was eclipsed by her conviction that she could play with anybody.
Two years later Labbé saved the decisive penalty in the shootout of the 2020 Olympic gold medal game, cementing her among the best keepers in the game. The Canadian has 16 shutouts in 28 games over the last three seasons with three different teams in different leagues — the last two resulting in titles. She is a feisty, aggressive keeper who is not afraid of contact — the type of player who makes an impression when she is on the pitch.
4) Sandra Paños
Spain, FC Barcelona
Paños was only one of two goalkeepers to earn a Ballon d'Or nomination this year, which she garnered as a member of the UWCL-winning Barca defense that conceded just 15 times in 34 league matches.
While she is one of the shorter keepers on this list at just 5 feet 6 inches, Paños makes up for it with quick feet and exceptional reflexes. She made her first division debut at age 18 and now has 240 senior appearances at 29-years-old.
FC Barcelona and Spains #1 Sandra Paños with 2 incredible savesWhich was your favorite 1 or 2 pic.twitter.com/OayFXRonE7
— Pro GK Academy (@progkacademy) June 14, 2020
3) Sari van Veenendaal
Before van Veenendaal's international debut in 2011, the Netherlands had only qualified for one major tournament: the 2009 European Championships. In the years since, the Dutch won the European Championship in 2017 and reached the World Cup Final in 2019 with van Veenendaal between the sticks.
A lanky 5-11, the Dutch keeper is great in the air and covers a lot of the goal thanks to solid positioning. She was also voted best FIFA women's goalkeeper in 2019.
2) Alyssa Naeher
United States, Chicago Red Stars
Nicknamed "Uncle" by her Chicago teammates for being the handyman in the Red Stars' locker room, Naeher's resourcefulness cannot be understated on the field either. Naeher is a phenomenal all-around keeper who makes big saves in big games, which she demonstrated as the USWNT number one at the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Summer Olympics.
A penalty specialist, Naeher saved a spot-kick against England that sent the USWNT to the 2019 World Cup Final, and her three penalty saves against the Netherlands (two in the shootout and one in normal time) helped the US advance to the semifinals of the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Naeher's strong right leg only adds to her commanding presence in the penalty area — fitting for a player that has played more minutes than any NWSL keeper.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 3, 2019
1) Christiane Endler
Chile, Olympique Lyon
The classic sign of a good goalkeeper is whether they make the saves they are supposed to make. But the best indicator for a great goalkeeper is their ability to make extraordinary saves. Christiane Endler's highlight reel fall's somewhere between absurd and ridiculous.
This would usually be where I would make a comparison to a male goalkeeper; but not only is that unfair to Endler, I don't think there is any goalkeeper in the world that is analogous to the Chilean.
Her second-half performance against the USWNT at the 2019 World Cup goes down as one of the greatest goalkeeping displays ever. Endler stopped at least three sure-fire goals after halftime, preserving a 3-0 scoreline when Chile easily could have been beaten by seven or eight goals — even earning player of the match honors despite the final.
Endlder's footwork is exceptional and she combines her quick feet with great reactions to make saves that shouldn't be made. Add in left-footed side volleys that have both distance and accuracy and you get the perfect all-around keeper.
Now on a Lyon side with the who's who of women's footballers (following a controversial move from PSG), Endler received the most Ballon d'Or votes in 2021 of any player at her club (finished 12th overall, higher than any other keeper).
On a list with so many difficult decisions, putting Endler first was the easiest choice to make.