Grand Rapids FC returned home to Grandville High School for the first time in a month with a pair of games this past weekend, hosting FC Indiana on Friday evening and Detroit Sun FC on Sunday afternoon. Two strong performances from the Girls in Blue saw a 2-1 victory on Friday and a 3-0 win on Sunday vault Grand Rapids into first place in the Midwest Conference.
On Friday evening, Grand Rapids had the majority of the possession early, and pressured the FC Indiana net with a number of shots on goal.
In the 11th minute, Riko Sagara had a shot on frame that was just tipped wide by the visiting keeper. Minutes later, a sliding shot from Maddie Pogarch from the center of the box flew just over the bar.
The 28th minute then saw GRFC finally break through. Receiving a throw in near the left touchline, forward Marti Corby made a few dribbles to the top of the box, and cutting the ball onto her left foot, created enough space to rip a shot that found the far post side netting to put the hosts in the lead.
“We didn’t start off a strong as we normally do, we weren’t playing as sharp,” said Corby. “It was just one of those things where I had a moment to take the game and fortunately, it turned out with the result of a goal.”
Less than ten minutes later, Grand Rapids doubled the lead. A shot by Corby was tipped by the FC Indiana keeper than bounced off the crossbar. Streaking in from her midfield position, Bethany Balcer beat her defender to the ball and tapped home the rebound for a 2-0 GRFC advantage.
In the second half, FC Indiana cut the lead to one in the 73rd minute as forward Marie Ashley Johnson found the back of the net on a left-footed rocket from the top of the box.
Over the remaining time, strong defense from Grand Rapids FC allowed the Girls in Blue to hang on for the 2-1 win.
“It was a difficult one. We always knew they would pose a big threat if we didn’t kill the game off, and we felt like we should have killed the game off earlier, we missed way too many chances,” said head coach Lewis Robinson. “They scored a fantastic goal on the counter attack and made it way too scary at the end for us. But the win is what is important.”
On Sunday, strong defense from both Grand Rapids and Detroit saw a tightly contested match-up through the first hour of place.
Detroit Sun FC had a few looks on goal in the first half, pushing a shot just wide off a free kick in the 29th minute then hitting the woodwork in first half stoppage time.
Likewise, Grand Rapids threatened the visitors goal on a number of occasions, most notably a header from defender Clare Carlson off a corner kick that slipped over the bar.
But, the game remained scoreless heading into halftime.
“Detroit are a very good team, and we knew that,” said Robinson. “You’ve got to give them so much respect, and we played that way. We didn’t want to give them too much space. It was a pretty cagey and defensive games for the first 50 minutes, where I think both teams didn’t want to give too much away.”
In the second half, Grand Rapids FC began to push a little more, trying to find the breakthrough goal. In the 52nd minute, a cross from Annie Steinlage found Bethany Balcer in the middle of the box, but the ensuing header was over the crossbar.
Another Balcer attempt came in the 68th minute, when Clare Carlson sent a through ball to the forward, but the shot was saved by Detroit’s keeper.
In the 74th minute, however, the third time proved to be the charm for Balcer as Steinlage made a run into the box and slipped a pass into Balcer in the center of the box who hit a rocket into the left side of the net for a 1-0 GRFC lead.
Balcer extended the Grand Rapids lead in the 87th minute, taking a Detroit turnover and using her speed to dribble past the opposing defense and slot the ball into the bottom right corner.
In stoppage time, Balcer completed the hat trick as Riko Sagara played a perfectly weighted through-ball between the two centerbacks to the center forward who again beat the Detroit keeper one-on-one to cap off a 3-0 GRFC victory.
“Assists get most of the credit, I’m supposed to finish, that’s my job,” said Balcer. “Perfect weight, perfect placement, finding the angles to get me the ball; I have great teammates that are able to find me.”
The two weekend wins put Grand Rapids at the top of the Midwest Conference with 16 points in seven matches. FC Indiana are in second place with 12 points in seven matches, while Detroit Sun FC sit in third with 11 points in six matches.
“We knew from the first day that this weekend was going to be a massive one with the two teams we were playing,” said Robinson. “Winning on Friday against FC Indiana, and with Detroit beating us the first time we played them, it doesn’t get any bigger than today. It was a massive weekend, I thought the ladies really stepped up and played a fantastic game on a big occasion.”
The Girls in Blue return to action on Friday, June 30th against Fort Wayne United at Grandville High School. The match is scheduled to kickoff at 7:00 p.m.