LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A goalkeeper is a lone leader on the soccer pitch, standing tall between the posts, looking out for everyone else.
Racing Louisville FC's keeper Michelle Betos always runs to her net, jumps to tap the crossbar and hits the two posts before setting up the expansion squad filled with youngsters following her lead.
"I feel like a big part of my job is helping the people in front of me succeed," Betos said. "I really pride myself on communication, organization and just investing in the people in front of me doing well. I really care about the girls and I really want them to do well."
You can see how she constantly challenges her younger teammates, barking out orders, making sure they're correctly lined up and then warmly embracing them. She learned that selflessness from another former professional keeper.
"He would give me all these random tips," Betos said. "And I'd say, 'Dad, what do you know?' And he never wanted to tell me he played professionally because he didn't want me to feel pressure. And it probably wasn't until I was a teenager that he said, 'You know, I was a professional goalkeeper.' And I was like, 'What?'"
Luke Betos played professionally in Greece. He also fought in the Vietnam War and didn't even tell his parents he was on the frontlines for it until after it was over.
"That's just my dad," Betos said. "Just relentlessly protecting the people he loves."
He also relentlessly rooted for them. As his daughter continued to climb as a soccer star, she always knew who her biggest fan was.
"He literally didn't want a shirt at Christmas, even if it wasn't a soccer shirt, that didn't say Betos and had my number on the back," Betos, who now wears his number 1, said.
She called him after every match and practice. And his message was always the same.
"It used to drive me crazy when I was a kid," Betos said. "But from as young as I can remember, all he did was tell me I was the best and it didn't matter what I did. He always believed I was the best. I didn't make mistakes and it drove me nuts because I knew I did make mistakes."
Although he carried that confidence to every match, Luke still paced back and forth while watching. His wife Sue would get nervous for different reasons.
"He wanted more shots," Sue Betos said. "For me, I was like, 'Kick it away, kick it away.'"
"And my dad is cheering for the other team to shoot," Michelle Betos said. "All he wanted to do was see me make saves. He didn't care. So he just had this unwavering confidence in me no matter what it was."
"I didn't actually even realize this as much until I lost him is how much of a source of confidence he was," Michelle Betos said.
And she didn't even know what would eventually take him until close to the end of his life. Luke Betos had plenty of health issues but would report nothing too serious after every trip to the doctor's office. One trip in December of 2019 would reveal the truth: cancer in his prostate that eventually spread to his bones.
"The diagnosis happened in 2012," Michelle Betos said. "And I didn't find out until Dec. 31, 2019."
"He said he broke his collarbone," Sue Betos said. "And we didn't really understand how. But Michelle took him to the hospital."
"The doctors pulled out hundreds of pages of notes with treatments and everything he had been through," Michelle Betos said. "It was an incredible shock to my family."
"We were like, 'What cancer,'" Sue Betos said. "And he said, 'This has been going on for eight years.'"
"Obviously, we begged to know why he wouldn't tell us," Michelle Betos said. "And he just said, 'I just didn't want to upset you guys. I just wanted you guys to live your lives. And I was going to fight this, beat it and tell you about it afterwards."
From then on, Michelle spent as much time as she could with her dad at the hospital. He would end up being checked into a rehab center.
"The intake nurse called me at work to set up things and straighten everything out," Sue Betos said. "And she said, 'I've been with him five minutes and I know how proud he is of his daughter.'"
Eventually, she would be due to report for the OL Reign's preseason.
"I didn't want to go," Michelle Betos said. "I wanted to stay with him of course and he refused."
Then, as the NWSL season started to approach, the coronavirus pandemic came. Betos and her mother were not allowed to visit the hospital.
"So I just FaceTimed with him every day," Michelle Betos said. "It was an awful, awful time. And then, when it just became clear that he probably wasn't going to make it, they gave my mom 15 minutes with him. So she rushed to the hospital and got me on FaceTime."
"I actually said, 'You fought as hard as you could and we appreciate it,'" Sue Betos said. "'Go in peace.'"
"And we just said he didn't have to fight anymore," Michelle Betos said. "Honestly, he passed away five minutes later because I think all he was doing was holding on for us. And we just gave him permission to go."
Luke Betos passed away in May of 2020 and was 74 years old.
"Losing my dad is by far the hardest thing that I've ever had to deal with," Michelle Betos said. "And I'm still dealing with it every day. I miss him every day, but I also know how important it was for him to just see me happy and thriving. And I just know how happy he'd be for me right now."
At Lynn Family Stadium, a mother and father watch their daughter lead Racing Louisville FC to a win against the Houston Dash on Father's Day. She made seven saves to clinch her third clean sheet of the season.
"He's sitting in the stands or flying over the goal, however that works," Michelle Betos said. "I can feel his presence always."
"It means the world for me to be here, and for her, for me to be here," Sue Betos said.
And as she hugs her teammates to celebrate a victory before stopping to sign autographs for whoever waits, the captain carries her father's selfless spirit.
"There's a lot of her in that," Sue Betos said. "She's very generous. And she wants to give the young players what she had and more."
"He just loved fiercely and was so passionate," Michelle Betos said. "And I think I carry that. I hope I make the people around me feel the way he made everyone feel."