The Next Step: Emily Dolan

Emily Dolan is a goalkeeper for Real Betis, a club in Spain’s top league, Primera División. After her 2015 Fall with Florida Gulf Coast, Dolan began working on her professional career. After spells in Italy and Poland, Dolan is now with Real Betis, where the club is looking to improve on its sixth-place finish in 2018-19.

The Next Step is a three-part series. Click here to read the other two installments.

When did you first have the thought, “Yeah, I can play professionally in Europe?”

Honestly, I was several months into my first pro contract before having that thought, and it wasn’t until my second contract that I truly started to believe it. My college career was less than ideal, and after largely not having played for four years, I had a lot of doubts about my place in football. Playing with Lancaster Inferno in the UWS helped, but when I started sending out my information to teams in Europe, I didn’t have high hopes for any responses. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and even though I thought that I had the potential to play, I didn’t think anyone would take a chance on a goalkeeper with such a blank resume. It wasn’t until I was already playing professionally that I regained the confidence to feel like I belonged here, and that football was what I wanted to do.

How would you describe the culture surrounding Real Betis?

The support that Real Betis fans have for their club is unreal, it's a complete backing of everything “verdiblanco” (across all Betis teams). Don’t get me wrong, the expectation is always to win, just like anywhere else. But there’s this sense that people’s pride for Betis transcends that, and it's an attitude that I haven't experienced or seen to the same extent in the US in women's football, with perhaps the exception of Portland. People are born into Real Betis, it's a lifelong thing for a lot of people, and there's something special about that. And I was brought into that fandom very quickly; for example, while I understood the rivalry between Real Betis and Sevilla FC before I arrived, I never expected to feel the same emotion over our derby as my teammates or coaches, simply because I'm not from here. But the passion here is so contagious that I couldn’t help but feel just as much a part of it as anyone else.

Photo courtesy of Real Betis Feminas

Photo courtesy of Real Betis Feminas

Does playing overseas help your resume when trying to return to the US to play in the NWSL?

I think the hardest thing about the NWSL is that there isn’t a whole lot of movement, especially for goalkeepers. Lots of players stay once they find a spot, and if space does open up, a drafted college goalkeeper or players who have been in a training role within the league might get the chance to step into that opportunity first. I think as the women’s game in Europe continues to rapidly progress, the experience that I’ve gained playing here could certainly boost my resume in the eyes of NWSL clubs. However, I’m also incredibly happy on this side of the Atlantic, so while I would love experiencing the high level of competition that the NWSL has to offer, that opportunity would need to have the right combination of factors for me to come home.

How has your game changed since playing in college?

I’m a completely different goalkeeper from when I played in college. Outside of playing for Lancaster Inferno in the summers, I really missed out on four years of development, gaining experience, and building confidence. So when I came to Europe, it was basically like being thrown in the deep end. The biggest growth I’ve seen in my game has happened since I came to Betis, which was a big part of me signing an extension with the club. The way I look at the game from a tactical standpoint has progressed a lot, as well as my positioning, technical components of my game, and my ability to handle services into the box. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m really excited to see where I am from a developmental standpoint after another year here.

By the end of your career, what would you be disappointed with yourself if you hadn’t accomplished it?

I would love to return to the Champions League one day, even better if it’s with Betis! That experience was a turning point for me, so going back would certainly have a sense of everything coming full circle. Besides that, I think most players have the dream of representing their country, and I’m no exception. But I have a lot more work to do before that point, and if it doesn’t happen, I don’t think that I would necessarily feel disappointed. My trajectory as a footballer has been pretty atypical (for lack of a better word), so I’m just focused on taking every day as a chance to learn and train as hard as I can, since those are things that I have complete control over. I’m the type of player that keeps her head down, works like crazy, and sees where the journey leads her. I want to take this as far as I can, but I’ll be proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in football regardless of how far that actually ends up being.