Michelle Betos’ Departure A Disturbing Trend For The NWSL

Michelle Betos is taking her talents to Norway. The 2015 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year is leaving the Portland Thorns to join Norwegian side Valerenga. Betos will leave the Thorns FC as one of its most popular players, along with a collection of highlight reels to forever cement her legacy here in the Rose City.

Betos tweeted her announcement on Friday, penning a goodbye note to her supporters.

Betos’ replacement will likely be Adrianna Franch, assuming she wins the spot over whomever the Thorns will sign upon Betos’ departure. Franch played in six games for the Thorns last season, which included three clean sheets. Once a solid backup to Betos, Franch will now have some big gloves to fill full time. The Thorns are expected to be contenders again next season, so the pressure on Franch will now be a season-long endeavor. But, Franch has shown she is more than capable of being Portland’s next stopper, so Thorns’ fans should sleep well knowing they are in good hands.

Betos leaves behind a much celebrated NWSL career. Who can forget this play that landed her the number two spot on SportCenter’s Top 10; the first goal ever scored by a goalkeeper in the NWSL.

But, it is plays like these that we will miss the most.

The departure of Betos, however, is an example of a growing problem for the NWSL. Betos is just the latest star to leave for Europe within the last few months. This past December, Alex Morgan, current member of the Orlando Pride and former Thorns star, joined French side Olympique Lyonnaise. Though the European league ends in May and Morgan has said she plans on rejoining the Pride sometime next summer, her departure cannot be a favorable turn of events for an Orlando team that counted on Morgan to fill seats.

Earlier this year, Crystal Dunn, the 2015 NWSL Most Valuable Player, signed with the English club Chelsea. Unlike Morgan, however, Dunn has no intensions on returning to her team, the Washington Spirit, or the NWSL anytime soon. Ali Krieger, another prominent member of the Spirit, was traded to the Orlando Pride, leading to speculation about turmoil within the organization.

It seems absurd that the league would let a player like Dunn, a rising star in women’s soccer, walk away so easily. If rumors were true of Dunn’s and Krieger’s growing resentment at the Washington organization, the NWSL should have stepped in to try and temper the situation. Instead, they let one star leave without any commitment to return and another walk to an opposing team for practically nothing in return.

This is a league problem, not a player problem.

For all the advancements women have made toward equal pay and treatment, the NWSL has an odd history of treating its players far lesser than any male league would even dream about treating its athletes. Take this embarrassing story as an example. In no universe as we know it today would MLS, NBA or MLB even think about having its players compete on a sub-par, grade-school-level type field.

There was also the controversial incident with Megan Rapinoe and the National Anthem, in which the Spirit and the NWSL admonished Rapinoe for kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner and even moved the timing of the anthem as to protests Rapinoe’s protest. No such steps were taken with be either a team or the NFL when Colin Kaepernick began this movement.

The NWSL had better understand a primary goal for this league and of the women playing for it; that women are just as important to the growth of the game soccer around the world as the men are, something the European league has a far better grasp on.

Betos’ decision to leave probably has nothing to do with the Thorns organization. Like Morgan, she saw an opportunity to better herself as a player in a climate where soccer is more popular and European clubs are invested in more heavily than in the States. Here, soccer is still an every two to four-year popularity event, unlike in Europe where you don’t need the World Cup or the Olympics to inject enthusiasm into the populace for the sport.

It also should be noted that not every club is like Portland’s, a city whose support of women’s soccer has no rivals. Last season, attendance was high in Portland even when the majority of its stars, like Tobin Heath and Lindsay Horan, were away on the national team. Teams like Orlando and Washington, anything outside of Seattle and Portland really, will suffer more if there is a lack of star power to draw in fans.

On the bright side, the NWSL just signed a three-year deal with Lifetime TV to broadcast a game every Saturday starting in April. But, if top-level stars continue to leave, it will be harder for the NWSL to promote matches and have fans tune in. The Lifetime deal is a major step forward for women’s professional soccer, where finding a match on TV is equivalent to finding high-definition footage of Bigfoot walking through Pioneer Square while eating a voodoo doughnut. It makes it all the more important for the league to not only keep its stars, but help nurture and promote their growth as well. If neither happens, the league and the TV deals with fold.

Somehow, the NWSL will need to counter this exodus crisis. It cannot afford to lose players like Dunn, Morgan, and Betos, or have players like Krieger unhappy with the league, if it wants to not only survive, but be prosperous. The NWSL has lasted longer than any other professional women’s soccer league before it and should do everything in its power to preserve its talent and stars.

As Betos leaves for the Land of the Midnight Sun, we will mourn no longer being witnesses to her talents, but we hope her talents will find witnesses as worthy as those at Providence Park. I hope the departure of Betos, like Morgan, Dunn and before her, serve as a warning to the NWSL; if you don’t take care of your athletes, the athletes have all the power to leave. And the fans have all the power to longer watch your product.

About John Stupak 44 Articles
John Stupak is a senior writer for Oregon Sports News since 2014. John has followed Oregon sports for nearly 30 years. He is a life-long Portland Trail Blazers fan and has had the privilege of covering the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. Along with everything sports, he is fan of movies and of quality television (sorry CBS) in his spare time. John has a beautiful wife, Amanda, along with one soccer-loving, intelligent, and artistic daughter. John is an electrical tech designer by day and a writer by nights and weekends. You can follow John and all his musings on Twitter (@Stupak77).