LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Racing Louisville FC goalkeeper Michelle Betos has played in multiple pro women's soccer leagues, gone overseas to compete and been a part of three different NWSL franchises. She remembers the league in the early years.
"My first year, we had a classroom as our locker room and we couldn't even keep our stuff there," Betos recalled from starting with the Seattle Reign. "We would go in, take our gear, go home, wash it and bring it back."
That might have even been a step up from training out of a trailer and college facility in Boston when she played in Women's Professional Soccer. It's all vastly different than a brand new home in Lynn Family Stadium, an incoming training facility and practice fields specifically created for her current team. The 33-year-old has seen the sport drastically change and wants younger players to appreciate it.
"I want them to enjoy this," Betos said. "I want them to understand this is where women's soccer is going, but also understand that this wasn't always what it was. And it's not unfortunately even where all the other clubs are yet. We're really, really lucky here."
The Racing captain provides that kind of perspective on an expansion team filled with new faces in the league. She tries to instill that along with vocally challenging them.
"I think that generation kind of came through soccer in a very different way than my generation did," Betos said. "You hear from college coaches how good you are, you hear from club coaches how good you are and then you show up in this environment where you might not even start. It's sometimes the first real challenge they've had. They've been a starter on every team they've played on, they've never not made a team and that wasn't my path at all."
After leaving the University of Georgia ranking second among goalkeepers in wins (48) as well as third in saves (316) and shutouts (26), Betos bounced around as a professional between Atlanta, Boston and international teams.
"I feel like I kind of got started late in this process," Betos said. "I have this long story where I just have a lot of regrets from college. I felt like I didn't push myself the way I needed to. And then I kind of showed up in Boston and I realized, 'Oh, my God, I'm not good.' And so at age 22, I had this huge deficit of where I felt like I should be."
That's when she told herself she had to make a choice: to move on from a game she loved and reflect on a great college career or take it to another level.
"I committed myself in a way that I hadn't previously that has now driven me for 10 years," Betos said.
It's pushed her to become an NWSL staple. Between Seattle and Portland, she became the first goalkeeper to score a goal in the NWSL and eventually won a Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2015. Some international stints followed before coming back to OL Reign, which was formerly Seattle.
"My career has really, really pushed me to be the best version of myself to find that I have strength within me that I didn't know I had," Betos said.
That has never been tested more than over the past couple of years. Betos ruptured her Achilles in 2019, tore her meniscus in 2020 and lost her father last year as well.
"It's been a hard couple years because I feel like up until that point, my path felt like I was really getting closer and closer to who I wanted to be and making the mark I wanted to make on this game," Betos said. "And then obviously, injuries, life and whatever gets in the way. So yeah, it was a tough time, but I think I'm absolutely better for it."
A chance for a clean slate presented itself when Racing Louisville FC brought her to the club. While many veterans might not be too excited to start over with a new franchise, Betos embraced it, continuing to value the chance to build something.
"I was actually pretty excited," Betos said. "I just saw the stadium and what they're trying to do here. I was really attached to the Reign because I'm invested in wherever I am. But I just remember thinking like, 'Wow, that'd be a cool opportunity.' And as soon as I got the call from Chrisy (Holly), I was thinking, 'Wow, this makes sense to me.'
"At this point in my career, I really love the leadership part. I really love investing in the younger players. And I think coming to an expansion team, having some serious experience in this league and understanding what it takes, but also wanting the chance to play, wanting the chance to make my mark on this league in a different way, I was really excited about it."
The club's captain has made her mark in an impactful way. Over four Challenge Cup and two regular season matches, Betos has made 25 saves while helping the team collect three straight clean sheets. She earned Woman of the Match honors after racking up 10 saves in Racing's first win over the Washington Spirit.
"We are very excited for her to get the recognition that she deserves," Racing Louisville FC head coach Christy Holly said. "Sometimes, it is different players that we are relying upon. We know that Michelle is the one we can always rely on. Every clean sheet is a team effort from front to back, just like a goal is a team effort from back to front. It is also her presence on the field that is very important, her leadership and her understanding of the journey that we are on."
To thrive on that journey, the captain wants her team to be patient with it and be prepared for anything.
"I want them to fail, I don't think they're going to succeed as much as they possibly can unless they fail," Betos said. "I want them to just be unafraid. I want them to attack every opportunity they get and I want them to understand that their path is going to be winding. To have success in this league, it's going to take a lot of downs to get to the ups."