Grand Rapids FC hosted the Midwest conference playoffs this weekend at Grandville High School, looking to earn a spot in the United Women’s Soccer National Finals next weekend, which will also to be played in Grandville.
Entering the playoffs having earned the top spot in the Midwest conference, GRFC played FC Indiana in their opening match. The Girls in Blue showed the fans exactly why they were the top team in the conference during the regular season, dominating from start to finish in an 11-0 rout.
Advancing to the finals on Sunday, Grand Rapids matched up against Detroit Sun. The contest against Detroit was played just like the first two meetings between the teams – physical in nature and with both teams seeing good looks on goal. A first half goal for GRFC proved to be the difference, though, and the hosts claimed a 1-0 win to advance to the National finals.
On Saturday against FC Indiana, the Girls in Blue scored in the opening five minutes, and within a half hour, left no doubt that they would move on to the regional final.
A 4th minute corner kick was played into the box and headed on by captain Michaela Kovacs to Clare Carlson who finished at the back post.
In the 14th minute, Bethany Balcer extended her goal scoring streak to six games, firing a shot from the top of the box into the back of the net.
Grand Rapids FC continued to dominate, adding goals in the 18th minute from Avery Lockwood, the 26th minute from Balcer, the 34th minute from Marti Corby, and a third in the first half for Balcer in the 43rd minute to take a 6-0 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the goals kept coming. Substitute Samantha Maher added another in the 55th minute, while Sagara scored one of her own in the 65th after assisting on Corby’s in the first half.
The 73rd minute saw Lizzie Paul add to the goal tally for GRFC, while Stinson scored in the 78th minute to make it double digits at ten for the home side. Paul then completed the scoring in the 83rd minute on a penalty kick to bring the final to 11-0.
The 11 goals were the most in a single game in United Women’s Soccer this season. Grand Rapids FC had previously scored 7 in a match, as had the Long Island Rough Riders.
Saturday’s match also marked the fifth straight match that GRFC’s Bethany Balcer has scored three or more goals.
“Tonight was one of those nights where everything that could go right, went right,” said head coach Lewis Robinson. “It was a good game, we came out at a very high level, and we were able to see the game off. We were 6-0 up at halftime, so we were able to rest a lot, relax a little bit more and keep one eye on the final tomorrow.”
Sunday’s match-up was much more tightly contested. Grand Rapids did not see a strong opportunity on goal until the 18th minute, when a shot from Marti Corby was saved.
Two minutes later, a run from Avery Lockwood into the box resulted in a shot across goal that hit the post but was then cleared by Detroit.
The pressure then culminated in a goal in the 21st minute. On a corner kick, Riko Sagara played the ball into the box to Michaela Kovacs who headed the ball into the goal for a 1-0 Grand Rapids lead.
The visitors nearly equalized in the 35th minute as a shot from a Detroit forward hit off the crossbar, but the ball was cleared from danger as GRFC held onto its 1-0 lead through halftime.
In the second half, Kovacs nearly added a second in the 56th minute as she hit the post with a shot on frame.
The Sun saw their best opportunity to level the scoring in the 67th minute. An offsides trap was misplayed by the Grand Rapids defense, allowing a Detroit attacker to go one-on-one with GRFC keeper Reilly Ott. Fortunately for Grand Rapids, the shot from Detroit was hit over the crossbar, resulting in a harmless goal kick.
Detroit had two more strong chance on goal, one in each of the 70th and 84th minutes, but each time Ott was up to the challenge, keeping the Girls in Blue ahead.
Some solid possession and midfield play then allowed Grand Rapids to close out the match and claim the 1-0 victory and the Midwest conference championship.
“It’s hard to play any team three times. We had a tough game against Detroit the first time, then we won our second meeting,” said midfielder Annie Steinlage. “It was tough because going up 1-0 early on you have to play defensively, but I think we did a good job sitting in and picking and choosing when to pressure.”
“We were working on set plays this week, so it was nice that one of those went in, and it was a fantastic header from Mouse,” said Robinson. “We were very happy with the first half performance, and then the second half, we got flat. We were looking for the counter goal and that never came, we were lacking a little bit of quality. Because of that, we had to defend, we relied on Reilly for a couple of big saves, but we were able to close it out.”
With the win, Grand Rapids FC advances to the United Women’s Soccer National Finals next weekend, which will be hosted by Grand Rapids at Grandville High School. The winners of each of the East, West, and Midwest conferences advances to the final, with a wildcard added by UWS.
“I think it will be fun to play against some different styles of play and test ourselves against what the national stage has to offer,” said Steinlage. “Going into the national finals we have respect for the other teams, but we are also confident in the way we’ve been playing and where we’re at right now.”
“We can’t wait for the national finals – it’s what this league is about, what this season has been about,” said Robinson. “Now, we’re lucky enough that we get to host. We’re counting down the days – we’ll train hard this week and be ready for the weekend.”