GRAND RAPIDS, MI- In 2014, Matt Roberts and Lewis Robinson began discussions of creating a women’s team. Having founded Grand Rapids Football Club (GRFC) that same year, they began working towards adding GRFC Women to the club in the fall of 2016, claiming United Women’s Soccer (UWS) Championship in their first season. Talk about perfect timing!
“If you asked us before the season if we would’ve won the national championship we would’ve laughed,” said Roberts. “We knew we would be good, we didn’t know how good.”
The main spark that led GRFC Women to the title was the coaching decision to move Bethany Balcer to a center forward role. Balcer led GRFC with 19 goals in the 2017 season, almost half of the teams’ total goal output.
Fast forward to the upcoming 2018 season and you may notice some differences in the second season of GRFC Women’s soccer. Three of the biggest names in the squad (Balcer, Goalkeeper Riley Ott, and Head Coach Lewis) have left the team. Balcer was signed by Seattle Sounders Women of the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), Ott moved back home to Texas, and Lewis took over the GRFC Men’s Head Coaching position.
First, GRFC had to fill the head coaching position. Davenport University’s Women’s Head Coach Chris Allen was brought in to start building a successful roster for the 2018 season. Allen’s tenure as head coach was a short one and was derailed by family issues.
“He came to us in early on in February and said hey, I’m having some troubles and we’ve got some family issues we’ve got to take care of,” said Roberts. “Family comes first and we understand that completely.”
Less than a month after Allen’s departure, GRFC Men’s Goalkeeper Coach James Gilpin was brought in to lead the Women’s team.
“I’ve been with GRFC on the men’s side since the very start,” said Gilpin. “Really, whatever the club needed me to do, whether it was on the men’s side or women’s side, I was more than happy and feel very privileged to be given the opportunity.”
Gilpin has relished the opportunity to lead the women’s side and has hit the ground running. “Since the day he got hired, he was on the phone with players all over the Midwest/World,” said Roberts.
In terms of how the team will play on the field, Gilpin and Lewis have similar strategy’s. “For the most part, we both believe in an attacking style, want to keep the ball on the ground as much as we can,” said Gilpin.
One of the early goals for Gilpin and GRFC was to fill the void left by players like Balcer and Ott. They went out and replaced 40% of the roster with exceptional college and international talent. For goalkeeping, the club brought in University of Hartford’s Maia Perez. Considered one of the top five keepers ever to play women’s soccer in West Michigan, Perez should have no problem picking up where Ott left off between the pipes.
The main talking point this off-season was how to replace the scoring prowess of Bethany Balcer. “Every time you lose something, that’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up,” said Gilpin. “Bethany is a fantastic player and everyone in Grand Rapids wish her the best going to the next stage of her career.”
One of those players looking to fill the shoes of the departing Balcer is Jamaican striker Jodain Morris. “I’m looking forward to playing with these girls and seeing what the season has to offer us,” said Morris. “I think I can come in and score a lot of goals and overall be a team player.”
Gilpin is excited for the women to have an opportunity to step into the role Balcer left, but wouldn’t put any single player in the role just yet. “I wouldn’t throw a name out right now but, I’d say the opportunity is there and somebody has to take that opportunity,” he said.
As is the case with any summer season, the development of the team relies on when the players arrive. With GRFC, expect the team to be rolling when the season starts.
“We still have a lot of girls who are in college that haven’t joined the team yet, so it’s about the individual right now just getting as well prepared as we can,” said Gilpin. “Once we get two or three weeks into the season we’ll see where we are really at. Then we can establish our goals and take every game as it comes.”
The club will continue to add players throughout the month of May and add another four players in June from the local youth academy, Midwest United.
No matter when the roster fully arrives in Grand Rapids, the goal is always the same. “Defending the Championship,” said Morris.
‘If we can get to the final again and win another championship it will be a fantastic achievement and something the city can be proud of,” said Gilpin.
GRFC Women opened their quest to repeat as UWS champions with a tough fought 2-2 draw against league newcomer Lansing United. Scoring for GRFC were forward Lizzy Paul (49th minute) and forward Kendra Longoria (86th minute). Forward Aubrey Schierbeek (58th minute) and defender Olivia Trombley (65th minute) tallied the goals for Lansing United.
Image courtesy of Grand Rapids Football Club