After a strong 2015 campaign, Portland Thorns FC goalkeeper Michelle Betos was named the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year on Wednesday. Betos was surprised and humbled by the recognition from coaches, players and fans.
“I was really shocked,” Betos said of receiving the award. “I have a ton of respect for [fellow finalists] Brittany Cameron (Sky Blue FC) and Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City)...I think they're great goalkeepers. I was honored to be nominated with them, but then to actually win the award was really shocking and just a huge honor.”
Betos, however, refused to take credit for her success in goal this season, deflecting praise to the Thorns defense in front of her.
“I thought our defense did a really good job of keeping us in games, keeping us in contention for playoffs,” she said. “I think back to those times about how strong our defense was. As a back line and as a goalkeeper, our job is to keep us in a game, make a game winnable. I think about how well we defended as a team and I think a lot of the award goes to that.”
In 14 appearances for the Thorns this season, Betos posted career-best numbers in games played (14), minutes played (1,260), saves (45), wins (5) and shutouts (2) in her second season with Thorns FC, and memorably scored the game-tying goal against FC Kansas City in June.
Betos was also clutch throughout the year. The ‘keeper was in goal for all but four games in which the Thorns earned points and played in five of the team’s six wins.
But despite those strong numbers, Betos believes that her best qualities as a goalkeeper may not necessarily manifest themselves on the stat sheet or in flashy reaction saves.
“I think as a goalkeeper the best thing you can do is prevent a shot from even happening,” she explained. “The biggest job of a goalkeeper is communicating and organizing and just preventing shots… even coming for a cross or winning a ball over the top—that kind of stuff that prevents a big time save or a big shot on goal or a good chance for the other team.
“Just because somebody has the most saves or something like that, I think it's more about how you direct your defense.”
The award, though, also appears to be the product of a two-year NWSL apprenticeship.
In 2013, Betos played behind U.S. National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo in Seattle and, in 2014, she backed up German National Team goalkeeper and former FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Nadine Angerer with the Thorns. Before the 2015 season, Thorns head coach Paul Riley tasked Betos with finding her own distinct goalkeeping identity.
“Don't just be like Hope. Don't just be like Nadine. But find the perfect blend of that and who I am and what I can bring separately from that to come into my own,” Betos remembered Riley telling her.
When asked what her identity is as a goalkeeper, Betos pointed to what she feels are her strongest traits: organization, aggression, competitiveness.
“The thing I want to pride myself on is my ability to organize the team. That's something I really value and really think is one of my biggest strengths, getting and helping players in front of me .”
As she reflects back on this past season, Betos notes the positives but she constantly circles back to the things that she could have improved, the shots she could have prevented, the goals she feels she could have stopped.
“I had great moments, I had bad moments, I had in between moments and I think that's part of being a goalkeeper. But for me, this award is a huge honor and something that I'm excited about and grateful to receive, but I want to be playing in this championship game,” she said.
Betos vows to continue improving her game, to helping the Thorns win a championship.
“This offseason, I'm going to try and improve everything. Try to become quicker, faster, a better shot stopper, better in the air,” she said.
But will she also be working on her scoring technique?
“No I will not,” she laughed. “I'm going to leave that to the forwards next year.”