It didn't take Nicole Barnhart long to make an impact with her newest soccer team. Playing in goal for the Independence in Sunday's opening, 2-2 Women's Professional Soccer draw with host Sky Blue of New Jersey, Barnhart made a diving save to her right in the 70th minute on a blast by Casey Nogueira that appeared ready to increase the home team's lead to 3-1.
Instead it stayed at 2-1, and the Independence escaped with a draw on Christina DiMartino's stoppage time goal.
The 29-year-old Barnhart had landed from Europe on the Thursday before the game after the U.S. team had played two friendlies and also staged workouts. Despite some fatigue, she made a huge impression on her new team.
"If she didn't make that save, we probably don't come back," Independence coach Paul Riley said.
Barnhart admitted she was tired, but more than happy to be on the field. "I had a little jet lag, but it was exciting playing for my new team."
A graduate of Boyertown, where she played soccer on the boys' team, Barnhart was the goalkeeper for last year's WPS champion FC Gold Pride of Northern California, which beat the Independence, 4-0, in the title game.
Gold Pride has since disbanded and Barnhart is glad to return to the area. She will lead the Independence in Saturday's 7 p.m. home opener at Widener against magicJack SC (0-0), the former Washington Freedom franchise now based in Boca Raton, Fla.
"The team is genuinely excited to play the home opener," Barnhart said. "It's tough when you start the season on the road."
Barnhart, who was the backup U.S. keeper for the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics, knows a lot about the road. She will hit it again after Saturday's game because the U.S. women's national team has a three-week camp in Florida beginning on Monday. WPS players will work out with the U.S. team during the week and then fly to their games on the weekend.
"It's definitely demanding, but it's our job to figure it out," Barnhart said.
Barnhart will be battling Hope Solo for playing time this summer in the World Cup. Solo played her first match since having shoulder surgery last summer, entering in the second half of a 2-1 loss to host England on April 2.
Barnhart played the first half. In Solo's absence, Barnhart has earned some valuable experience.
"The good thing is that I have gotten a lot of games under my belt, and it has helped me improve the last couple of months," Barnhart said. "I think it will be great competition."
So will competing in WPS. For a keeper, a game-saving save like the one last week carries a lot of weight.
"You get a big save like that, and it can only boost your confidence," Barnhart said. "I will carry that one with me."
And so will her team.
Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or email@example.com.