It was business as usual for Grand Rapids FC this weekend as two home matches resulted in two wins and ten goals scored with none conceded. Both matches were played in dominating fashion, with the Girls in Blue defeating Fort Wayne United 6-0 Friday evening at Grandville High School, and Toledo Villa 4-0 on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Houseman Field.
On Friday, a scintillating start allowed GRFC to jump out to a 4-0 lead within 20 minutes.
In the 10th minute, a give and go between Claire Carlson and Bethany Balcer resulted in a Carlson goal to open the scoring.
Less than two minutes later, a Balcer through ball at the top of the box to Riko Sagara allowed Sagara an open look on net which she made the most of, slotting the ball into the bottom left corner of the net.
For Balcer, the two assists were just the beginning of a fantastic match. In the 14th minute, a quick throw in to Annie Steinlage saw the midfielder gain a step on her defender. Working toward the endline, Steinlage placed a cross onto the head of Balcer who beat the keeper to extend the lead to 3-0.
The final tally of the four-goal barrage also came from Balcer, as a long through ball from Avery Lockwood sent Balcer in on goal. One-on-one with the keeper, Balcer hit a rocket into the right side of the net that allowed the keeper no time to react for her second goal in less than three minutes.
Grand Rapids took the four goal advantage into halftime.
“I think having a couple of weeks off, to come out like that was what we wanted and what we hoped,” said head coach Lewis Robinson. “You take a week off, and it goes one of two ways – either you can be sluggish and not on pace, or you can do what we did in the first 30 minutes, and I thought we came out very, very fast.”
In the second half, Balcer added two more. Her third of the match came off a defensive miscue by Fort Wayne as a backpass was intercepted by Balcer, and again, she beat the keeper one-on-one to find the back of the net.
The Girls in Blue wrapped up the scoring in the 89th minute. Substitute Anna Stinson sent a through-ball forward to Balcer, and despite having nearly a full-games worth of wear on her legs, Balcer still beat out the defenders to pick up the pass and put the bow on a tremendous performance with her fourth of the match.
“Lately we’ve been trying to get behind the defense, we’ve been able to expose defenses that way,” said Balcer. “And we’ve been really working on pressure lately, and that’s how we forced them to have turnovers which turned into breakaways.”
“She’s been fantastic, she’s just flying,” said Robinson about Balcer. “She was clinical in her chances tonight, I think she scored with every chance that she had. Having the players around her that the opponents have to be aware of, some of the players that maybe didn’t score tonight, they create an extra little bit of space for her as well.”
On Sunday, Grand Rapids FC picked up right where it left off. More specifically, Bethany Balcer stayed on her scoring tear as she added a few more goals to her season total. Another fast start allowed the Girls in Blue to build a 2-0 advantage within 21 minutes and a 3-0 lead by halftime over visiting Toledo Villa.
In the 11th minute, some great pressure by Balcer allowed her to score the first goal. Off a throw in by Maddie Pogarch, a Toledo defender tried to shield off Balcer as the ball ran to her keeper. But, Balcer was able to work her way around the defender and beat the keeper to the ball as she poked it into the net.
In the 21st minute, a hand ball was called on Toledo Villa which resulted in a penalty kick for Grand Rapids. Stepping up to the spot, Balcer went left as the keeper dove right to push the lead to 2-0.
Balcer added a third in the final minute of the first half to give her three hat tricks in three games and ten goals in total in those three matches.
“We know that as soon as we score, we become more comfortable and more space is available behind the opposing team,” said Robinson. “From there I think the girls did a very good job of dominating and it seemed pretty comfortable.”
In the second half, Marti Corby rounded out the scoring in the 85th minute on a pass from Claire Carlson.
The 4-0 final scored also marked the third straight game in which Grand Rapids has not allowed a goal.
“Our backline has been fantastic, Reilly in goal has been brilliant,” said Robinson. “It doesn’t get into the headlines as much, but it’s equally important. They’ve done a very good job of working together. It takes a team to get shutouts and stop other teams from scoring – they’ve done a really good job of that.”
“We just recently changed our shape from a three back to a four back, and I think that helps a lot defensively, obviously keeping it compact,” said center back and captain Michaela Kovacs. “We added Monreau to our back three, we had Tara and Claire, but I think it helps having that one extra player, we do a good job of stepping and covering each other now, with the four it’s more comfortable.”
The win clinches first place in the Midwest conference for GRFC, which makes Grand Rapids the host site for the regional playoffs on July 15-16.
“We’re excited for that. That will be awesome for everyone to come out and see us play. The community has been really supportive of the women’s team so far,” said Kovacs. “We’re really excited to host it at home, it’s a good thing for Grand Rapids, and a great thing for our first year.”
GRFC has one more regular season match remaining this upcoming Saturday. The Girls in Blue will travel to Noblesville, Indiana, to wrap up their season against Indy Premier SC.