Reign FC forward Bethany Balcer’s rookie season is drawing attention from every echelon of U.S. soccer. The former undrafted trialist is at the top of the NWSL rookie class for scoring with four goals and two assists in 1,550 minutes of play.
“I think she’s done an incredible job,” Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “She’s our leading scorer. It’s not just that she’s our leading scorer, she’s our most dangerous player. Even when she doesn’t score, she assists or creates scoring opportunities for her teammates. As a rookie, it’s absolutely amazing. I don’t think there’s another rookie in the league that has had the season or the impact that Bethany has. Any way you look at it, it’s a no-brainer, not just in my mind, but in lots of peoples’ minds, that she’s the Rookie of the Year. I’m happy for her, because she’s getting better every game. It’s not that she did well in one or two games, she’s constantly doing well, game in and game out.”
Balcer has taken 62 shots, the fifth-most of any player in the league. She is the only rookie in the league’s top 20 for combined goals and assists, tied for 15th with Portland’s Tobin Heath and Houston’s Rachel Daly. The forward has also shown her skill in distribution, making 24 key passes to help set up promising chances.
The first-year player’s success has drawn attention from the U.S. Soccer Federation, as well. Balcer was recently named to the U.S. U23 Women’s National Team and helped it win the 2019 Nordic Tournament, her first ever international call-up.
The forward said recently that the call-up fulfilled a dream of hers, but that she was eager to grow her game even more.
Fellow forward Megan Rapinoe said that Balcer’s goal-scoring pedigree from Spring Arbor University, where she scored 129 goals and added 45 assists in 98 college appearances, helped make her more clinical in front of the net.
“She has really great instincts,” Rapinoe said. “She’s not from a top school or a top division. She’s a diamond in the rough. There are some things about her game that are rough, that aren’t fully polished or sophisticated, but she has really good instincts. She’s got a nose for the goal, obviously. There’s no rookie that has ever had that much practice scoring goals. I don’t think there’s anyone that’s ever scored that many goals (who is playing in this league) when they were in college.”
“She is well-practiced,” continued Rapinoe. “Her second nature in and around the box is super aggressive. I think she fits in well with the team. She’s taking on information well and her game has expanded a lot even in just one year. To do that in your first year is pretty tough, especially in this league. I’m excited for not only the rest of this season, but what the next couple of years will bring for her. She’s going through this crazy growth spurt. It’s really impressive, the instincts she has coming from the school she did.”
Reign FC centerback and captain Lauren Barnes acknowledged that the rookie has made a huge impact for the club this season.
“To be fair, the story speaks for it itself,” Barnes said. “I remember her coming in our first couple preseason meetings, going over ‘what’s your name? Where are you from?’ Then and there, she was so quiet, so modest. Then we got out on the pitch and I saw her play. I was thinking ‘oh my goodness.’ She’s been so good for us. She’s grown a lot, but to be honest, I think she’s always had it in her and I still don’t think she knows how good she is yet. That’s awesome in its own way. She’s been great for us. She’s solid, she’s consistent, she’s raw, she’s fun. She loves the game so much and wants to do so much for this team. That’s the beauty of it. She’s a great player, but the other things she brings to this team have been amazing. I can’t think of a better candidate for Rookie of the Year, considering her story, where she came from, and how effective she’s been for us.”
Barnes praised the freedom with which Balcer plays, something the forward herself said came from her status as a long-shot when she arrived at camp.
“With this tryout, I had a different mindset than I usually do,” Balcer said back in April. “I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. If I’m meant to play soccer, the Lord is going to make that way for me. I went into it saying ‘I’m going to have fun and play my best and if it happens, great. If not, we’ll look for the next step.’”
The forward quickly found herself on the score sheet. Balcer scored the first goal in club history at Cheney Stadium in a 1-1 draw with Orlando on April 21, then scored in consecutive matches on May 27 and June 1, the first of which helped the club earn its first-ever win against the North Carolina Courage.
“She came in and a lot of people didn’t know who she was,” Barnes said. “To be fair, she might not have known the defenders that she was going up against. I think it’s an advantage that’s been really good for her. You don’t stress about stuff. You play how you want. Her game is so beautiful because of that. Her game is pretty black and white. She plays simple. She sees what she sees and she takes her chances. It’s so fun to watch her energy. She’s been so good for us. The whole team is so supportive and it’s been really fun to watch her. I think she landed in the perfect place.”