Former GVSU soccer players Marti Corby and Clare Carlson sign with first ever GRFC women’s team

GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Clare Carlson (7) moves the ball up field. The Lakers defeat the Panthers of Ohio Dominican with a final score of 4-0 on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 in Allendale.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff – Clare Carlson (7) moves the ball up field. The Lakers defeat the Panthers of Ohio Dominican with a final score of 4-0 on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 in Allendale.

Josh Peick

The Grand Rapids community is known for its surplus of soccer talent that advances to play at some of the top-collegiate programs in the nation. In 2015, the city formed the Grand Rapids Football Club to bring a professional men’s team to the rich-soccer community.

This year, GRFC expanded to create a women’s team that will compete in the United Women’s Soccer league in the summer of 2017. Two familiar faces from the Grand Valley State women’s soccer team will be suiting up.

Former GVSU-standouts Marti Corby and Clare Carlson both signed with GRFC to be part of the inaugural season. Both Corby and Carlson were vital pieces of the 2016 GVSU senior class that reached four NCAA National Championships and won three of them.

An emphasis for GRFC on the men’s and women’s side has been to provide the community with top-level soccer but doing so by developing the team with local players.

“When we first started to recruit and putting the roster together for GRFC, we built around West Michigan’s best players,” said GRFC women’s coach Lewis Robinson. “Our first step was really putting together who are the best players in West Michigan, and (Corby and Carlson) are right up there at the top of the list and always have been.”

Corby and Carlson grew up in Ada, Michigan and played together at Forest Hills Central High School. After four years at GVSU and eight years of playing together, both were hungry for more competition.

“It’s more about just getting to play more,” Carlson said. “I was really eager for that and sad about possibly everything being done after last year.”

Corby committed to the team after Carlson due to injuries and options to play elsewhere. Corby entered the National Women’s Soccer League 2017 Draft and after going undrafted, she received a few invitations to tryout with teams.

“I did not pursue those (tryouts) because of my injury, and I knew that if I made a team or even as a reserve, I would have to uproot my life and live there,” Corby said. “I wanted to graduate and finish college and I would have had to put that on hold.”

Carlson committed to the team in December alongside her sister Mary Carlson who is a sophomore at Central Michigan. Both sisters played together on the same team in high school for one year alongside Corby, and the idea of reuniting on the field sparked the idea of joining GRFC.

“When we found out about the team being made, we talked about it right away,” Mary Carlson said. “We both wanted to have the opportunity to play together again.”

Outside of practicing together in the offseason, the sisters have played only one season on the same field, but the chemistry between the two could come naturally.

“We definitely know how each other plays really well,” Mary Carlson said. “The chemistry is really good considering how close we are as sisters so hopefully we will be able to bring that on the field.”

The last time they played together they played in positions spread out on the field, but now in the improbable reunion, they will play right next to each other on the back line of the defense.

“I had never expected it to happen ever again,” Clare Carlson said. “The fact that she’ll be playing center-back right next to me will be interesting to see how that works. I am hoping that we have some innate chemistry that just falls into place.”

A number of factors brought Clare Carlson and Corby back onto the field, the two prominent factors being convenience and familiarity.

Before the creation of GRFC, both players traveled more than two hours to compete against top competition in the region. Now, both players will be playing right in their backyard.

“I would never have expected to have this level (of competition) this close to home,” Clare Carlson said.

The familiarity of the coaches on staff also drew both of them to the team. Robinson, the GRFC coach, coached both Clare Carlson and Corby during their time playing club soccer outside of high school and collegiate soccer.

“It definitely made my decision easier because I know his coaching style,” Clare Carlson said. “I know he really enjoys the game and likes to make practices light-hearted but still competitive. It definitely made me more comfortable in pursuing.

“They’re coaches that just know how to make you find that love for the game.”

With so many local players on the team, the two former GVSU players are familiar with the rest of roster through playing with or against them, or simply just recognizing the name.

“All of the people that they have playing, it’s such an incredible opportunity to play with all of them,” Corby said. “You can’t really pass it up.”

Making it to any level of professional sports is difficult to achieve, but to be able to play professionally in an athlete’s hometown is a rare feat.

“I am really excited just to be able to represent my hometown and to be able to do it with my sister,” Mary Carlson said. “That’s the coolest part for me.”

GRFC will play in the newly formed United Women’s Soccer Midwest Conference with six other teams. The UWS is a second-tier professional team behind the National Women’s Soccer League.

The GRFC women’s team is focusing on building the community support similar to that of the men’s team, but winning is at the forefront of creating that support.

“When it comes to the team getting started, we want to win,” Robinson said. “We want to win in the league that we’re in and maybe have aspirations in the future to move up in leagues.”

If the GRFC women’s team is to have success in its first season, Corby and the Carlson sisters will be at the center of that success.

“The thing that I like best about them is they’re both just such winners, very committed, very competitive,” Robinson said. “They bring everything that you want especially in a first-year team that you are trying to build those expectations and standards.”