Nadine Angerer, Thorns vs. Chicago, 8.18.18
Photo by Sam Ortega

Re-signed with Portland, Thorns FC's Nadine Angerer offers unique bridge between players and coaches

The title Director of Goalkeeping carries certain implications. The word “director” is right there. Combine that status with the playing career Nadine Angerer amassed in goal, and you have some idea about the prestige a former FIFA Player of the Year brings to a technical staff. Angerer isn’t your typical goalkeeping coach.

Undoubtedly, that’s part of the reason why Portland Thorns FC are thrilled to have the German legend’s contract extended with the club. But those surface details are a fraction of why Angerer has worked so well in Portland, with the true value of her place within head coach Mark Parsons’ staff having less to do with her playing resume than how her skills and personality have meshed within the new Thorns’ culture.

“We sit here and try to see things from the players’ perspective when trying to support them,” Parsons said, “but we’re from a different world. Nadine offers a unique bridge between both and consistently supports players and staff pulling together in the right direction.

“Nadine has brought that as well as a huge desire to grow (as a coach). And as much as the club is adding to what she is becoming, as a coach, she is adding to our perspectives and knowledge in many areas of the game.”

Players moving into coaching is a constant throughout world soccer, a pathway that is part of the game’s natural order. More often than not, though, we see athletes struggle with that transition, occasionally assuming the determined, tunnel-visioned outlooks that help on the field can be as viable in their new roles.

Angerer still exhibits that focus in her daily goalkeeping sessions, which have helped develop Adrianna Franch into a two-time NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year. Within the coaching staff, though, Angerer’s contributions transcend the often distinct, sometimes detached world of goalkeepers. Her outlook on the game – different and complementary to Parsons’, assistant Rich Gunney’s, or assistant Sophie Clough’s – is crucial to the Thorns’ ecosystem.

“We all are very different,” Parsons concedes. “We see the game very differently, but we balance each other. We pull and push each other between our two worlds, a lot. We’re always working off each other.”

Much of those two worlds are defined by differences. Having been brought up through the German system, Angerer often offers a perspective that is coldly objective. It may sound like a stereotype, but it is true, and almost always, it is helpful. Even when her views on a method, tactic or player isn’t, ultimately, adopted by the group, her perspective augments the sentiments, stylistic preferences, and instincts of others.

This isn’t the normal role for a goalkeeping coach. A good staff has space for all opinions, but the life of a goalkeeper is a different beast, usually leaving those who live it as experts in the world they occupy but only able to offer passing observations beyond it.

Angerer’s role is much different. As much as Clough or Gunney, she is a confidant of Parsons, as well as a sounding board. Because whereas Clough and Gunney come from somewhat similar backgrounds and work experiences as Parsons, Angerer -- someone with 146 appearances for one of the world’s top national teams -- offers something different. Someone with two World Cup winner’s medals, five European Championship titles offers something different. The relationships Angerer cultivated during a decade-long career that took her from Europe to Australia to the United States? That, along with the array of players, coaches, and personality types she has been exposed to offers something which, from the lens of an elite athlete, is different.

“What’s a huge strength for her is that she can sit down with players, and [the conversation] becomes very much from the players’ perspective,” Parsons explains. “But in the next minute, she’s saying the same thing to us, but from a coach’s perspective.

“I’ll sit there and see something on the field, on video, and wonder, ‘what was that player thinking,’ but then Nadine will offer a perspective from the players view, and it helps. Maybe it’s some pressure they’re feeling, or some other factor that I hadn’t seen, but Nadine constantly provides that outlook.”

These are all professional skills, but to a greater extent than in other professions, coaching comes down to your qualities as a person. Be an amazing tactician, know the history of the game, have mastered how to design training sessions or drills? All that is great, when it comes to guiding others, you have to be able to live in a middle ground, one that extends from your ideas to a place where your intellect becomes a shared experience.

As we see with other players moving to off-field roles, being a successful player doesn’t guarantee coaching success. That Angerer has shown a willingness to grow into her new role, as well as see herself as one of a group of cogs that craft the Thorns’ outlook, explains why the transition into hew new career has gone better than others’.

“It was an easy decision …,” Angerer said, of her new contract in Portland. “We have been on a great journey and I want to continue to help the club grow on this path into the future.

“Working with Mark and the rest of the staff has been amazing. I have a passion to develop goalkeepers, and here in Portland I have been given the opportunity and trust to succeed.”

Even from the outside, keeping Angerer in Thorns red was a no-brainer, but the true whys of that status aren’t evident when watching a game, seeing a practice, or evaluating players’ individual awards. They take place in the conversations within Providence Park’s corridors, the constant text messages between coaches, and the willingness exhibited each winter, when the Angerers return from Germany, back to their second home.

Angerer is proving as successful off the field as she was on, though not for the same reasons. Because where once her qualities as an athlete brought her to prominence, now, her success is being defined by her qualities as a person.