PORTLAND, Ore. – When Thorns FC goalkeeper Michelle Betos first learned that she had a new teammate, German international goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, what she heard was terrifying.
“One of the girls here last year saw her in the locker room before anybody had seen her. And they were like, 'Have you seen Nadine? She's huge! She's so scary!'” Betos recalled. “So I'm expecting when we show up in Arizona for preseason this enormous, terrifying woman to come in.
“Obviously, she wasn't like that at all.”
At the conclusion of the 2015 NWSL season, the experienced Angerer will hang up her boots, having won two FIFA Women's World Cups, five UEFA European Championships, a UEFA Women's Cup, four German Cups, a FIFA World Player of the Year Award and having set the record for most consecutive World Cup minutes without conceding a goal.
By almost any measure, Angerer is the most decorated goalkeeper in the history of women's soccer.
But there are two sides to the fiercely competitive Angerer that her Thorns teammates have grown to know and love over the past two NWSL seasons.
“She's a completely different person on and off the field,” said forward Christine Sinclair, one of Angerer's closest friends on the team.
“Off the field, she's absolutely crazy and you'd never think she's a world class athlete and possibly the best goalkeeper in the world, but as soon as you get her in goal, a switch flips and she's scary. I remember before knowing her, she was one of the few goalkeepers that was so intimidating, but knowing her now, it's like, no you're not!”
Angerer's intensity on the pitch and her easygoing nature off of it are a big reason why her Thorns teammates look to her for leadership and advice.
“Off the field, she's just a great friend,” said Betos. “We see the game really similarly. We both are really passionate and it's something that we really share and we love to joke around. I think our dynamic is big within the team and on the field: every day I have one of the best players in the world pushing me.”
Angerer's Portland story, though, first began when she spent time traveling around the U.S. during the 2003 World Cup. The Rose City left a big impression on the then twenty-five year old Angerer.
Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer
“Portland is different compared to the rest of the U.S.,” Angerer said. “A lot of people were asking me [ahead of her decision to play in NWSL], 'Can you imagine living in the U.S.?' And I said: 'No, but I can imagine living in Portland.'”
The German international loves everything about Portland, from the open-minded people to the restaurants and cafes that dominate the food scene. But she reserves her most effusive praise for the Thorns FC fans, whom she says are unique in women's soccer.
“Sinc told me, 'Wait until you see the fans,' And I thought: 'What should be special?'” Angerer recalled. “And then I stepped out onto the field and found out what's special.
“I've played in so many clubs all over the world—in Australia, Germany, Sweden, and here—and I have so many caps with the national team, but no other club that plays in the world has a fan base like we have here in Portland. I really appreciate so much to play in front of these fans.”
After the 2015 NWSL season, Angerer will say goodbye to those fans and to the game that she's devoted so much of her life to mastering. It was a decision she announced prior to the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Despite remaining physically fit and on top of her game, Angerer says that now is the right time to enter the next stage of her life.
“I could easily play two or three more years,” she said. “Even my coach in the national team tried to persuade me...my teammates on the national team tried to get me to continue. I think that's the best point to retire, if people try to persuade you to continue.”
That much was clear during this summer's World Cup, in which Angerer started in goal for the German National Team through to the country's third-place match against England. Angerer came up with the decisive save time and again, rejecting Claire Lavogez of France's penalty kick to send the Germans to a semifinal showdown with the U.S.
Even if, by her own admission, she could continue playing, Angerer is also ready to take on the next challenge of her soccer career: coaching.
“I'm very interested to be a goalkeeper coach,” she said, adding that she wants to travel abroad in the next year observing goalkeeper sessions at men's and women's clubs around the world, before working towards her “A” coaching license in Germany.
“I have my own style [of goalkeeping],” she explained. “I have my own ideas and philosophy, but I still want to get to know other styles.”
Betos, who has spent two years learning from and competing against Angerer, already thinks of her German colleague as a goalkeeping mentor.
“She's like another coach out there sometimes,” Betos said. “She's so invested in goalkeeping and in the sport. Last year...we were doing a ton of German goalkeeping drills and it's stuff I had never done, but I saw immediate improvements in my game.”
Angerer remains excited about her future in the sport, but she knows that leaving behind Portland and the Thorns will be bittersweet.
“Portland gave me so much and is still giving me so much,” she said. “I'm pretty sure I will come back even if it's just for vacation.”