Last Line: Alfeld Anchors New Zealand Defense
The 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup will be hosted by Canada and kicks off Tuesday with the start of group play. Four LSU Tigers are will be competing in the event for the best representation of the LSU Soccer program in the history of the World Cup event. LSUSports.net is publishing a four-part feature series on the Tigers stepping onto the field for their countries at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Part 3 features Class of 2014 goalkeeper recruit Lily Alfeld, who will be competing for New Zealand during the event.
The task of a goalkeeper is often thankless.
The goalkeeper is always the last line of defense for a team looking to keep an opponent out of the net and off the scoreboard. While star strikers are remembered most for the goals they score, a goalkeeper might be remembered most for a mistake made that allows a goal to be scored.
But the impact of a goalkeeper on the overall success of a team can never be measured by simply looking at a final scoresheet. It’s a role often tasked with the responsibility of organizing the team’s back line through 90 minutes of constant communication to stifle opposing attacks before they even begin.
It’s a responsibility that New Zealand international shot-stopper Lily Alfeld meets head-on.
“I enjoy the responsibility and challenge of being the last line of defense,” Alfeld exclaimed. “The mental side of the game is what is most challenging for a goalkeeper. I may only get a couple of plays in a game, but they could be the difference in winning and losing, so I know I have to stay focused on my job for the entire match. The mental side of the game is most challenging.
“As a goalkeeper, you have to learn to be mentally tough. You have to learn to put a mistake behind you and focus on the rest of the match and communicate well with your defenders in front of you.”
Alfeld believes communication and shot-stopping ability are her greatest strengths, a recipe for success for any aspiring goalkeeper.
But she grew up dreaming of being that star striker that scores the goals and leads her team to victory at the other end of the field. It wasn’t until she was 11 years old that she was introduced to the position.
“That was the age group when we rotated our goalkeeper each game and I was put in goal one weekend and had a really good game. They put me in there with the rest of the season,” Alfeld explained. “I hated being stuck in goal at first. I just wanted to run around and score the goals!
“But after that season and getting some specific goalkeeper training, I realized it was a position I liked.”
Alfeld now tries to model herself in the mold of Manchester United’s legendary former goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, sharing that “he was an incredible goalkeeper and always had a dominating presence on the pitch. That’s how I want to play.”
Alfeld will make her presence felt as the last line of defense for New Zealand in the coming weeks as she starts in goal for the Junior Football Ferns at the 2014 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup to be held this month in Canada. The Ferns kick off group play with a match against Paraguay on Wednesday.
New Zealand will compete as part of Group D alongside the likes of Costa Rica, France and Paraguay.
There are 16 nations competing at this year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup with top two teams in each of the four groups advancing to the knockout quarterfinals beginning Aug. 16.
“I can’t wait to play against the very best players in our age group from around the world,” Alfeld said. “I need to put in a performance that will help my team win our matches. Our goal for this tournament is to make it to the finals matches. Many of us have played at World Cups before (U-17 and U-20), so we have an idea of what to expect. We just need to focus on the task at hand.”
Joining the Football Ferns
Members of New Zealand’s Women’s National Team are affectionately known as the “Football Ferns.”
Once known simply as the Swanz, the team adopted the new “Football Ferns” moniker leading up to the start of the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China thanks to a public competition held in association with a Sunday newspaper distributed throughout New Zealand.
Youth players who get their first taste of international competition with New Zealand’s U-17 squad are called the “Young Football Ferns” before graduating to the “Junior Football Ferns” with the U-20s. There is no doubting the dream of each Young Fern is to one day join the senior squad.
The “Football Ferns” derive their nickname from the official team badge that depicts a simple silver fern leaf on the left side of the chest.
“It’s such an honor!” Alfeld proclaimed when talking about her emotions each time she wears the jersey of her native New Zealand. “Wearing the silver fern on your chest is an opportunity that so many people dream of, so I’m very privileged to be able to do so. I feel very proud knowing that I am representing my country in the World Cup.”
Alfeld’s rise in the ranks of the Football Ferns is typical of many New Zealanders given the opportunity to represent their country on the international stage.
Alfeld was introduced to the international game as a 13-year-old spectator when New Zealand served as the host nation for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008. She recalls seeing the German keepers in training and realizing “that’s what I wanted to do; I knew I wanted to be like that one day.”
First cutting her teeth at the U-17 level, Alfeld was capped eight times by the Young Ferns that featured appearances at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago in 2010 and the Middle Eastern nation of Azerbaijan in 2012.
Her experience as the team’s starting goalkeeper at the 2012 U-17 World Cup even earned her a “Player of the Match” honor in New Zealand’s group play match against Mexico.
Alfeld’s displays in Azerbaijan earned an immediate call-up to the U-20 squad when reaching eligibility at 18 years of age.
She will step onto the field for New Zealand’s first group game against Paraguay as the squad’s starter in goal just two days after her 19th birthday. Alfeld has already appeared seven times for the Junior Ferns in 2013 and 2014 in preparation for her third World Cup. It’s the stage she hopes to one day grace with the senior squad as one of her nation’s emerging stars at the international level.
A Pipeline to Baton Rouge
New Zealand is a pipeline that the LSU Soccer program has tapped with great success in recent years.
Alfeld actually featured alongside two Tiger rookies who would join the program in the wake of the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and prove themselves among the top college prospects in the U.S. during their debut seasons in 2013. Attacking midfielder Emma Fletcher and versatile left back Megan Lee were each All-SEC selections and Freshman All-Americans in their first season in Baton Rouge.
Already an accomplished international goalkeeper, Alfeld saw the benefit of continuing both her athletic and academic development in the United States as part of the university system.
Her research saw one school shoot to the top of the list in the race for her verbal commitment.
“All I knew in the beginning was that Emma and Megan were both going to LSU from the national team,” Alfeld said of what she knew about LSU early in her recruitment. “I would go online and do some research of my own into the school and the soccer program, and was just so impressed!
“The coaching staff and the program itself were a major factor in me deciding to become an LSU Tiger. It sold itself. I also just loved Baton Rouge and the LSU campus on my visit.”
Alfeld made it official on National Signing Day in February when she inked her National Letter of Intent with the Tigers to join a recruiting class that would rank among the nation’s best in 2014. She is certainly one of the stars in a class that earned a No. 7 national ranking from TopDrawerSoccer.com.
LSU is not the only program looking to attract New Zealand’s top talent as the Football Ferns continue to build their reputation as a soccer hotbed not just in their region, but all across the globe.
“Going to college to pursue athletic and academic careers is an opportunity that many New Zealand soccer players are very interested in doing,” Alfeld said of the attraction to the U.S. college system. “Our country is realizing that a place like LSU has a great soccer program and offers the chance to play with so many top players from around the world.”
One Last Hurrah
There is still work to be done before Alfeld embarks on a collegiate career with the LSU Tigers as she will anchor the New Zealand defense at this year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup that kicks off next week.
The Junior Football Ferns have never advanced beyond the group phase of the tournament that includes four appearances by New Zealand in the event since 2006.
They will look to make history and leave a legacy for future teams to shoot for in the years to come.
“This World Cup will be a challenge for our team, but one I know we are looking forward to,” Alfeld said. “I’m sure I will learn a lot, both on and off the pitch, and hopefully I’ll be able to use my experience once it’s over to help me take on the new challenges I’m sure I’ll face at LSU.”
And what should Tiger fans know about her excitement of finally making that move to Baton Rouge?
“I can’t wait to get to LSU and start the 2014 season with the Tigers!” Alfeld exclaimed. “I’m excited that I can be a part of a team with such a high quality of players from around the world!”