By Steve Greenaway, eltee sydney Design Director, girls soccer coach and long time goalie.
Mackenzie Arnold and Mary Earps Inspire a Generation of Goalkeepers
There’s been much hoo-ha in the build up to this week’s semi final clash between the Matildas and England’s Lionesses.
Sam Kerr continues to feature heavily in nearly all narratives regarding Australia, and rightly so, she has been pivotal to the Matildas success in recent years. But her injury before the tournament started gave her an opportunity to have an influence from the dugout (#futureMatildascoach?)
For the rest of the team, it was their chance to prove to the world that they could be succeed without her, and I think we can all agree that they've run with it.
As for England, there was less emphasis on a single player during the lead up to the tournament, although is wasn’t long before Lauren James started to dominate the headlines early in the tournament - for all the right reasons, and then the wrong one.
So Sam’s in and Lauren’s out. Advantage Australia? Perhaps.
One thing’s for sure, no one Matilda or Lioness can get their team into the final, it’s a team game, and every member of the squad will need to be in form to advance. Players, subs, coaches, physios and the absence of red-carded James will all play a role.
No one player can get their team to the final but both teams have one player who has kept them in this tournament. One player who has the means to get them all the way.
Mackenzie Arnold and Mary Earps have been fundamental to their respective teams' success through their group stages and into the knockouts. The epic penalty shootout that we witnessed during the Matildas eventual victory over France will long be remembered as the most dramatic shoot out the game has seen.
And at the other end, Earps has been a brick wall, only conceding one goal during open play for the whole tournament, and what a stunning goal it was by Columbia’s Santos!
Both keepers are visionary play makers who direct their respective back lines with class and authority. After all, it’s not just the saves that define a great keeper, it’s ensuring the team's defensive lines are in the right place. Both Earps and Arnold have prevented many a shot on goal even taking place as a result of their tactical awareness.
Good offensive play in the modern game generally starts from the back. England are masters of build up play, drawing out the opposition, before pressing high and out manoeuvering the defence. Earps’ vision in spotting potential routes upfield makes this very effective. Obviously, a lot of this work is done before the game kicks off. Both Wiegman and Gustavsson would have studied each others' games, exposing any potential weakness and directing play accordingly. But as the only real stationery player on field, a keeper can see these opportunities in real time.
So the way I see it, it's Arnold v Earps. If both keepers bring their A-game, we’re in for an excellent match.
I played in goal through to my teens, and loved it. It’s not a position for the feint hearted - you have to be physically or mentally strong.
Nowadays, as a coach of a womens under 16 team (that's them in the pic), I struggle to find players who want to play exclusively in goal, and after discovering Nike excluded Mary Earps' jersey from the replica range this tournament, it’s clear that the sentiment around goalkeeping needs an overhaul.
During this match we can expect to witness Mackenzie Arnold and Mary Earps dominating their respective goals and inspiring a much needed shift in attitude towards the position.
They’re phenomenal athletes, and I have no doubt that their performances between the posts at this FIFA Women's World Cup tournament will result in even more girls aspiring to wear the NO1 jersey.