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Barnhart Looks For Second Cap - But First in Goal - With WNT in Portugal


Goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, affectionately known as “Barnie” to her teammates, got her second call-up to the full U.S. Women’s National Team for the 2005 Algarve Cup in Portugal. The USA opens the tournament on March 9 against France. Her first call-up for the match against Mexico on Oct. 16 during the 2005 “Fan Celebration Tour” was shaping up to be uneventful until the final minutes of the match.  What happened next made her the first (and probably last) goalkeeper in U.S. history to earn her first cap as a field player.

Nicole Barnhart was just enjoying the atmosphere.  There were more than 20,000 screaming fans in the stands at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City as the Stanford All-American sat on the end of the bench in the waning minutes of the USA vs. Mexico match during the “Fan Celebration Tour.” The U.S. was holding a slim 1-0 lead.

She had been called in to replace Briana Scurry (who had an appearance) as insurance in case 2004 Olympic Team back-up Kristen Luckenbill happened to get injured. 

The 5-foot-10 Barnhart had played a match for Stanford the night before (which had gone into overtime), rushed home to pack, then caught an early flight in Kansas City. She would catch a flight early home the next morning to play for the Cardinal on Sunday.  Three games in three days, but she only expected to play in two of them.

She was told that if the USA got a lead against Mexico she might get a chance to go in goal and earn her first cap, but with only a few minutes left and only one goal on the scoreboard, she knew she would have to wait for her debut.

Or would she?

Thus commenced a bizarre set of circumstances that came together to give Barnhart the most unusual first cap for a goalkeeper in U.S. Women’s National Team history.

With only 13 players available for the match, former U.S. head coach April Heinrichs used both her substitutes at halftime, taking off Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.  Then with about 10 minutes left in the game, midfielder Angela Hucles went out with an ankle injury.  She could not return. 

“Mia, Brandi and Joy Fawcett (who was injured) and I were just hanging out on the bench chilling,” said Barnhart.  “After Angela started limping off the field, we kind of realized that she wasn’t going be able to play again.”

Unbeknownst to Barnhart, the coaches then started talking about putting her in.  Chastain was all for it.

“Brandi looked at me and said, ‘Barnie, can you go in?’,” said Barnhart.  “She asked me what I was wearing, and I said black socks and black shorts, and she started taking off her socks.”

Barnhart then changed into Fawcett’s shorts under a big stadium jacket and pulled on Fawcett’s No. 14 jersey.

“I was kind of hesitant, but Brandi and Joy kept making me change and Brandi was yelling at me to change faster because time was running out and I wasn’t going to be able to go on,” she said.  “At that point in the game I was pretty frozen, because it was kind of cold.  I wasn’t really thinking about going in on the field at that point, I was just trying to change as quickly as I could.  Brandi was getting on my case for not changing fast enough.”

After Barnhart finally made the uniform transformation from goalkeeper to field player, and the coaches figured out how to send in a player with a different number than was listed on the official game roster, assistant coach Tracey Leone came down to the end of the bench and told her she was going in at target forward.

Gulp.

“I didn’t think about it a whole lot, because it all happened kind of quickly,” said Barnhart, who was about to live out every goalkeeper’s dream.  “I do remember looking up at the clock right before I went in and said to myself, ‘four minutes, I can do this.’”

Cindy Parlow moved to outside midfield to replace Hucles and Barnhart -- wearing Chastain’s socks and Fawcett’s shorts and jersey -- went up top along with Abby Wambach, one of the top strikers in the world.

Maybe there was some magic in those clothes.

Somehow, the rhythm of the game was such that Barnhart ended up being involved in the play for almost the whole time she was in the match.  She collected a few balls with her back to the goal, connected a few passes with Wambach and the midfielders and almost made room for a shot as she dribbled across the top of the penalty area to her right.

“I should have shot the ball now that I think about it,” said Barnhart, reliving her moment of forward glory.  “I saw Aly wide open so I just laid it off to her.”

Amazingly, Barnhart almost set up a goal, getting possession at the top of the penalty area before dribbling to her left and playing a pass to Wambach with the outside of her right foot.   Wambach’s shot was on frame, but was blocked by a defender on the six-yard line.

“I thought I was going to get you an assist,” Wambach said after the game. 

Barnhart was not a total foreigner to the field, having played at forward for her club, ODP and even regional team, but her four minutes plus stoppage time at striker will likely remain the greatest ever performance by a goalkeeper on the field for the U.S. Women’s National Team.  And perhaps the only one.

In the 1995 Women’s World Cup, Mia Hamm became the first field player (and probably the last) to play in goal when Scurry was ejected at the end of the match against Denmark and the U.S. had already used all of its subs.

Hamm also performed well, facing a dangerous free kick and making two saves in the USA’s 2-0 win.  Hamm never again played in the nets, and despite her urgings, Barnhart will likely never again find herself inside the other team’s penalty area.

“After I got back (from Kansas City), I tried to get them to let me play on the field at Stanford,” said Barnhart.  “They weren’t buying it so much.”

“That was probably the best I’ve ever seen a goalkeeper play on the field, considering the circumstances,” said Wambach.  “It was a great example of the professionalism and willingness of players on this team to fill in wherever they are needed.  I was excited for her.”

After the match, the U.S. players were almost happier for Barnhart than they were about winning a close match.  Hugs, high fives and pats on the back came from everyone.

“I think I did well in there, but it finally hit me when I had a chance to look around and see how many people where in the stadium,” said Barnhart, who also became one of the few collegians to play for the Women’s National Team during their college season. “It kind of happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to think about it until after.  Everyone on the team was congratulating me and saying they thought I was going to score.”

After the match Chastain took a big Sharpie marker and crossed out Fawcett on the back of her jersey and inked in a huge BARNHART across her shoulders.  The jersey, signed by all of the U.S. players, now hangs on the wall of her apartment in Palo Alto.

Barnhart admits that she has more butterflies knowing that she will likely get her first goalkeeper cap at the Algarve Cup then she did in her debut, and that’s just fine with her.

“I went in as forward without too many expectations on me,” said Barnhart, who has played on the last three U.S. Under-21 Nordic Cup championship teams.  “I kind of got thrown in there at the last minute, so I’m a bit more nervous about getting a chance in goal this time.  A bunch of people on this trip asked me if I was going to play forward this time, or in goal.  I know Mia is retired, but I don’t think anyone is planning on me stepping in there.” 
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