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The Lowdown: The anatomy of a goalkeeper’s goal

Ever since Michelle Betos can remember, she has wanted to be a goalkeeper. It has never been in her soccer fantasies to score a goal. And if you think her diving header to score the most theatrical equalizer in NWSL history was rehearsed, guess again.

“We’ve never really worked on that,” Allie Long, who served in the corner kick, said. “It was actually I think the best header anyone (on our team) has gotten on the end of to score a goal. It was amazing.”

Every now and then you see it. A goalkeeper goes forward either to take a free kick or try to get a head on a lofted ball in the box. Hope Solo once took a throw-in during a playoff game while playing for Saint Louis Athletica in WPS.

“I’ve never seen a female goalkeeper score,” said Long, who is famous for her breadth of worldwide soccer fanaticism. “There is a keeper in Brazil who takes all the free kicks. I always thought that was really special, so the fact that Michelle is the first female that I’ve seen score in live play is just incredible.”

That Brazilian is Rogerio Ceni, who has scored more than 100 goals, all from penalty kicks and free kicks and all from the goalkeeper position. He broke the record of Paraguay’s Jose Luis Chilavert who made the practice famous in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Betos will never be confused with those two. But with the Thorns losing 1-0 and time running out Friday night against FC Kansas City, the 27-year-old came forward for extra support on a corner kick in stoppage time. It had not been a great night for the Thorns, and they were a woman down after McCall Zerboni was given a straight red card for stepping on Shea Groom.

“We talk a lot with Paul (Riley, Thorns coach) and we talk about just managing games,” Betos said a few days after the euphoria had died down some. “Are you up one, are you down one, are you chasing the game? And obviously at that point we were chasing the game. So we’re just trying to send everyone forward.”

First, Betos sent her teammates forward to take a free kick, but that was still on her half of the field. It eventually led to a corner kick, “and at that point there is nothing to lose whether we lost 2-0 or 1-0 really didn’t matter.

“I kind of looked over to Paul to make sure I got the go ahead. And he sent me in.”

Just the sight of their goalkeeper going into the attacking penalty area got the fans at Providence Park worked up into a frenzy. Long drove in the corner kick, but it was nowhere near Betos. An FC Kansas City player defended it out – another corner.

Long set up to take the next one, Betos was still pretty much in the middle of the box with no marking to be found. “I know (FCKC defender) Leigh Ann Robinson really well and when I was in the box she kind of looked at me,” Betos said, “and we talked about it after the game. I think she was a unsure, like, ‘Do we solve that or do we not?’ I’m sure there were other priorities. We have much better goal scorers than me so I’m sure they were just trying to sort that out. So I did notice no one was around me.”

Long noticed too. “When I picked my head up I saw that Michelle was wide open. There was a gap—players by the goal and players on top of the 18. My instinct was to just hit it in there and someone would just run onto it. Low and behold it was Michelle Betos our goalkeeper. I didn’t necessarily aim for her but she was in that perfect spot where I wanted to hit the ball.”

“When Allie was serving the corner all I was thinking was we need to put this in,” Betos said.  “You’re overcome with the desire to just win or at that point tie. I always say to our forwards and our backs to do everything you can and leave it all out and that’s just what I was trying to do.”

Long’s second corner kick was perfect. Betos took a half-step back and then drove herself forward into the ball, making clean contact and sending it on frame. The shot went into the midsection of Kansas City midfielder Frances Silva, but momentum carried it into the goal before Silva’s teammates cleared it out. Long had as good a look as anyone in the stadium.

“As soon as the whole ball crossed the line I looked directly to the linesman” Long said. “Players were in the way and there was a lot of commotion so I was just making sure the ref wasn’t going to call it back. It for sure went in but if the ref were to call it back I can see why because they were so many bodies in there.” Betos said she was looking around at teammates and the referee for a signal which finally came in her favor.

The goal counted. The match was tied. There was pandemonium at Providence Park.

“I was making the 100-yard sprint (back to goal) with about eight girls around my neck trying to celebrate. All Allie wanted to do was celebrate. All I wanted to do was just get back to the goal so we could defend and close it out. I was exhausted.” (Ironically, when Betos was a kid first playing soccer she picked goalkeeper because of the lack of running. She has never looked back from there.)

Betos hustled back and a few moments later the final whistle sounded on one of the most satisfying draws you’ll ever see midway through a regular season schedule.  She was mobbed again but this time she could sit on the turf instead of sprint. It was the first time the Thorns had ever scored a goal in the 90th minute or stoppage time to flip the result of a match.

“I actually did not know that but that’s really cool,” Long said upon hearing it for the first time.

“I have watched the video now and I’m kind of surprised at what happened,” Betos said, “but at the time there was really very little thought process except the ball is coming to me I’m going to try and put it on frame.”

For her efforts—which included a few quality saves as well—Betos was named NWSL Player of the Week. Her goal also made the SportsCenter Top 10 on ESPN. However, it also served to overshadow the arc of her career which has taken her from unknown college senior to a coveted professional teetering back and forth across the line between backup and full-time NWSL starter.

“I do think I have come a long way,” said Betos, who excelled playing for Riley in WPSL Elite three years ago and earned herself a spot on Seattle Reign FC for the inaugural NWSL season. “It’s been a really interesting and kind of crazy journey. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve had the privilege of playing with such great goalkeepers, having great training and great mentors. I feel like I’m coming into my own; like I’ve been able to take pieces from all the experiences I have had and all the people I’ve worked with and I feel like I am in a good place.”

In Seattle in 2013, Betos was supposed to back up Hope Solo but when Solo had wrist surgery, Betos was thrown into the fire. It was a hot fire. The Reign were not very good and Betos was up against it from the start.

“You always feel things during the season and you look back and your perspective is usually a bit different. Now being able to look back at Seattle, first of all I had a great experience there in terms of the coaching staff and the players, but it was tough. We were the underdogs in every game. As a goalkeeper you’re going to give up goals and it’s going to be a learning experience. That’s not always fun at the time but looking back I think it was invaluable. I got to play tough games. We were pressured constantly. I was seeing a ton of shots, making mistakes, learning, growing. And then Hope came back and I was training with one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

“I’m never going to enjoy losing, that’s never been in my personality to take the moral victory, but I’d be silly to deny the value of that.”

The Reign traded Betos to the Breakers and the Breakers sent her to Portland. She was hesitant to go to Portland, where she would be sitting behind then reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, Nadine Angerer. But after some conversations with Riley, Betos gave her blessing to pull the trigger on the draft day deal. Less than two years later, Angerer has announced her retirement following the season, and Betos seems to be the heir apparent in the Rose City.

“You never know what’s going to happen. For me I’m just trying to enjoy this time. But I feel good about my future. I think Nadine has had a career she can be really, really proud of so I’m grateful that she’s been a part of mine too.

“I hope that I still have gains to make.”

Week 10 Takeaways

Dash have survived: During preseason no team spoke as much about the need to survive through the World Cup than the Dash. It seems they are on the verge of doing just that. Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Flash extended the Dash’s unbeaten streak to five matches. They sit in 4th place and have only one more match before the World Cup ends (the Dash are off the weekend of the final.) That means they will be inserting Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Meghan Klingenberg, and Allysha Chapman into a team that has played well for more than a month. Even if they slip outside the top four, by then it may be time to start calling Randy Waldrum’s side contenders.

Blues can’t score but they still play pretty soccer: FC Kansas City may live to rue dropping two points by allowing an opposing goalkeeper score in stoppage time, but the real issue in Kansas City is that the attacking players they are using are unable to score enough to get the team wins. They still defend very well and knock the ball around very well, and once Lauren Holiday and Amy Rodriguez come back in the team it is a decent bet they will be able to score more often.

Is Groom the league pest? McCall Zerboni was deservedly sent off for stepping on Shea Groom as part of her route to check on Sinead Farrelly who had been taken out by Groom on the play. The yellow card to Groom was on the way out when Zerboni stepped on her back, bringing out the red. Some have called for a longer suspension for Zerboni. I disagree. I think the red card and requisite one-match suspension are sufficient. The more interesting takeaway is how many players appear to be unnerved by Groom, whose play has bordered on reckless during her rookie season. Remember that Flash goalkeeper Chantel Jones was spared a red but was suspended for a match after she shoved Groom to the ground from behind after a rough challenge. Groom is a talented young player but her effect on the league at large is a story to watch the rest of the season.

Attendance

The Thorns drew a season-high 15,214 to Providence Park on Saturday while the Dash attracted a season-low and all-time weekend low of 3,499 to BBVA Compass.  The Breakers’ attendance was 2,145.  The Red Stars match was washed out and no attendance was recorded.  Here are the season average (with 2014 average in parantheses):

1. Portland Thorns FC — 14,079 (13,362)
2. Chicago Red Stars — 5,481 (2,949)
3. Houston Dash — 4,418 (4,539)
4. FC Kansas City — 3,599 (2,018)
5. Washington Spirit — 3,465 (3,335)
6. Seattle Reign FC — 2,484 (3,632)
7. Boston Breakers — 2,445 (2,437)
8. Western New York Flash — 2,075 (3,177)
9. Sky Blue FC — 1,304 (1,640)

Free Kicks

Direct

— The Red Stars and Spirit tried to get their match in on Saturday but it just was not meant to be. They started twice but only made it through 38 minutes before a second weather delay did them in. The match was postponed and will replayed in its entirety at a later date. The postponement wiped out what would have been Megan Oyster’s first professional goal. The Spirit rookie grew up just down the road from Benedictine and had several friends and family members in the stands.

— Perhaps the Red Stars and Spirit used the rain delays to consummate a trade. On Tuesday the Spirit acquired an international draft slot for this season and next, sending their 2nd and 3rd round picks in 2016 to Chicago. Later in the day the Spirit filled the spot with the signing of Nigerian striker Ngozi Okobi.

— Brittany Taylor now holds the league record for consecutive minutes played with 3,250 and counting. The old record holder, Jen Buczkowski (3,122) maintains her streak of consecutive games played with 55 in a row. Both streaks are regular season only.

— As first reported by The Equalizer, Sky Blue are welcoming CoCo Goodson back to the team. Coach Jim Gabarra said it was Goodson, who had announced her retirement during the offseason, who reached out to the team about returning.

Indirect

— The Betos goal is certainly a contender for the seminal moment in the first three seasons of NWSL. For me the two other contenders are Yael Averbuch’s stoppage time goal to help the Spirit beat the Red Stars last August and ultimately pip them for a playoff berth; and Lisa De Vanna’s bicycle kick for Sky Blue against the Breakers in 2013. Tobin Heath’s free kick goal in the 2013 final is also a candidate but probably lags behind the other three.

— Props to anyone who sat through the weather delays in Chicago in hopes of seeing a match. Having sat through a similar situation at Yurcak Field last summer only to leave without a ball being kicked, I can say from experience it is not fun at tall.

— There has been much discussion about the imbalanced knockout bracket at the World Cup, and most of it is entirely fair. That said, a blind draw of the seeds could have yielded the exact same thing. What is less acceptable to me is the absurd scheduling in the bridging of the Round of 16 and quarterfinals. By the time Japan kicked off Tuesday night against the Netherlands, their quarterfinal opponent, Australia, had been finished with their round-of-16 match for 55 hours. That is enough time to fly from Moncton to Edmonton going the opposite direction and still shake off some of the jet lag. China will also have two extra days rest on the United States.

— Went 6-of-8 in Round-of-16 picks, missing England and Australia. Here are my quarterfinal picks:

Germany 3, France 2: Picked Germany from the get-go so can’t switch fields now, but France’s last two matches have been magic. While this match is deserving of being the final, sometimes earlier rounds produce better soccer.

United States 2, China 1, aet: China will be no pushover with their defensive organization, solid goalkeeping, two extra days of rest, and the suspensions of Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday. But at least for one last time the U.S. stick-to-itiveness will see them through if only narrowly.

Australia 1, Japan 0: Tuesday night’s performance have folks buzzing about Japan, but while four years ago it was there time, this time just might belong to Australia.

Canada 2, England 1: Not sure how much I actually believe this but feel like Canada has one more stroke of magic to set up a semifinal on Canada Day.

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