At 38 years and six days GK Nicole Barnhart is the oldest active player in the National Women’s Soccer League and yet, arguably one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the women’s game.
Barnhart is no stranger to records, she has already written her way into history as the all-time league leader for saves (437), shutouts (51), games played (131) and minutes played (11,673) and this season she recorded 10 shutouts, matching her personal career-best mark in 2013 for the second-most clean sheets in a single season.
From small-town beginnings in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania, Barnhart was familiar with making history long before she was starting goalkeeper in the world’s best women’s professional soccer league. As a high school student, Barnhart was a fish out of water on the all-boys soccer team at Boyertown High School where she played goalkeeper and in the field for all four years of high school.
As a result the Pennsylvania native earned a place on the Stanford University soccer team where, yet again, she began to make history. During her four years as a Cardinal, Barnhart was honored on the PAC-10 First Team from 2002-04. In addition, nearly 15 years later, she still holds the records for career shutouts (35), fewest goals allowed in a single season (4) and single-season shutouts (18).
The success in her college years led to a long and illustrious professional career that spans over a decade, in two leagues with four different teams, all of which have led her here to Salt Lake City.
Barnhart’s calm demeanor and humble attitude have given way to her living in the shadows of other goalkeepers throughout the years, but when one takes a moment to look at her reel of highlights, it’s clear to see that despite not being the biggest name she is in fact among the all-time greats.
The success of Barnhart between the pipes extends to the international stage, but unfortunately does not translate into as strong of stats as one might expect from looking at her professional career. In the nearly 10 years spent with the national team, Barnhart eclipsed 50 appearances and was a member of the Gold medal-winning Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012, as well apart of the 2007 and 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup teams that finished in third place and as runners-up, respectively.
The rise of Barnhart within the national team coincided with that of Hope Solo, leaving the Pennsylvania native to sit in the shadows. Had things been different, had she been born 10 years prior, perhaps it would be Barnhart who earned the title of starting goalkeeper for the United States Women’s National Team.
But despite playing the role of a backup keeper, Barnhart has continued to persevere and make save after save as she continues to prove that on the club level she may be the one of, if not the greatest of all time.
At 38 years and six days it’s not clear how much longer Utah will continue to see Barnhart represent the team in goal, but one thing is for sure, she will keep making highlight reels all the while continuing to make history along the way.