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NWSL preseason preview: Bethany Balcer is glad to be seen as a whole human

Balcer talks about being seen for who you are off the field as well as on it.

OL Reign v Portland Thorns FC Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Welcome back to our NWSL preaseason preview series! We’re closing out the series with OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer, who has grabbed the attention of Reign fans with her goalscoring as well as her social media presence, where she not only shows off small home repairs, but also thoughtfully and honestly discusses mental health.

You can read our previous preseason interviews here:

Michelle Betos | Jennifer Cudjoe | Sarah Gorden | Tori Huster | Shea Groom | Jess McDonald | Ali Riley | Abby Smith

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. It was originally recorded on February 25.

All for XI: You guys have been in preseason for a couple weeks now, at least. So what’s the vibe in camp?

Bethany Balcer: Yeah, we’ve been here for a month now and it’s been so fun. I think everybody is really excited to get back in the swing of things and have a mostly normal season. We’re looking forward to playing a lot of games and just getting back to the regular swing of things. So it’s been an overall positive vibe. And girls have come back from a longer offseason and are just ready to go. We have a new energy and new spirit and it’s been fun to just dive right in.

AfXI: It is a longer preseason than, I think, NWSL has ever had. It’s like 10 weeks long. Is there any sense of like, well, it’s good to have that much prep time or, come on, I just want to play again.

BB: There’s definitely a little bit of both. I think coming up is kind of when that time of like, wow, this has been going on for a while is kind of coming around. But yeah, we do take every training seriously, knowing that it’s prepping us and that it’s important with all of our preseason games and stuff. I think we’re all just looking forward to maximizing the time we have together to just continue to mesh as a team with all our new faces and really come together to put the product that we want on the field

AfXI: With the new faces, what’s the energy like there because NWSL, we’re coming up on being 10 years old. This is season nine. And so even in the past two or three years since you came in as a rookie, it feels like there’s just been this rapid change. Does it feel different? Is there a sense of, things are already different when they come in? You guys have been there, you’ve done that. You’ve seen it, and the league is changing. Is there any sense of that?

BB: Yeah, I think after my first offseason, I realized that people come and go, and you really just got to work with it on the fly and trust that what our club is trying to do is gonna work. And so yeah, there’s been a lot of new faces. And we have a really young group this year, but it’s also complemented by a few veteran players. And so I really like the mix. And it’s just fun to get a group of people together, a new group in particular, and figure out what works. And I think this year has been particularly exciting, because I think a lot of us just know how each other works. And so I’m excited to see that on the field.

AfXI: There are some names in the preseason roster in that forward cohort that are really exciting. I mean, you guys picked up Tziarra King. There’s Nicole Momiki and Miranda Nild - she’s a non roster invite. Jasmyne Spencer’s in there. Obviously, Sofia Huerta. What’s the feeling amongst the attacking group going through preseason and going into the Challenge Cup?

BB: We’re excited. I love our forward line. And I think, yeah, there’s some younger girls, and there’s some more veteran players. And so it’s just very competitive. I think it’s a very healthy competitiveness. And so we’re just continually pushing each other. And I think we’re gonna score a lot more goals this year than we did last year. That’s exciting. And we’re ready for fulfilling our role as attackers.

AfXI: Speaking of the season, it’s kind of a new schedule, a new structure. They announced that Challenge Cup’s coming back and you guys are going to jump into that. Tournament mentality is different than regular season mentality. How are you guys taking that into account in your training?

BB: Yeah, it’s a different mentality for sure. I think mentally you just have to be prepared. So a lot more games, I think, into a smaller period of time. So mentally, you have to stay sharp and physically, it’s just more demanding on your body. And so there’s just like a certain will you have to have going into those types of things. And obviously, almost every team has experienced that with the Challenge Cup last year. And so it’s just a different vibe. And I think if we can perform well, that will really set the tone for the regular season.

AfXI: And then on the mental side, I thought this was such a cool announcement, the Reign announcing that Mariah Bullock is coming back, but as a mental health counselor and sports psychologist and I saw you tweeted about it, and how that’s such a crucial component. And, particularly after the last year, I think a lot of players really brought up how you have to treat the player as a whole person, right? They’re not just a ball kicking machine. There’s a mental component here, too. What does it been like, so far, integrating that aspect into day to day prep with the team?

BB: It’s been very exciting and positive, for sure. It was definitely something that was new to me last year. And so now to kind of have more - sounds weird, but like, experience with my anxiety, I just realized how important it is to have someone there checking in on you to talk things through with and just recognize the humanity in us and know that we could be playing really well but if our mind’s not right, that needs to be fixed. And so we’re all super excited that Mariah is a part of this club now. And we have someone that we can go to and someone who will be taking care of us. And we’re actually meeting with her tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to that, and just what we can do to continue to build this player experience and make it a positive one and know that we are being cared for outside of being a soccer player.

AfXI: Yeah, I think it makes a huge difference. When we see people when they make steps in their personal life that are positive, a lot of times that comes out on the field. Has that been your experience?

BB: Yeah, it definitely has. And actually I’ve been also meeting with someone else that I personally have that was brought to me by the club. And so I think the club has just done a great job of providing those outlets for us. And yes, I have been using them to the fullest. Preseason is obviously, it’s a lot. You’re go-go-go it feels like and so it’s been really good to have someone just to release to about all those things that don’t get brought up on the soccer field that are in your mind and all the other things you’re dealing with in your life.

AfXI: Where do you guys hope to be as a team by the end of preseason? We talked about that Challenge Cup mentality. So where do you want to be heading into that?

BB: Well, first, you want to be healthy. I feel like we always have lots of injuries. So we’re looking just to be as fresh and fit as we possibly can be. But also just have a little more drive, I think, than we did last year. Farid [Benstiti]’s done a really good job of creating a positive culture. And we’re really just trying to focus on taking it one game at a time. And always being better than the last time we played but also getting the result we wanted. I think that was our issue in the Challenge Cup and the fall series last year was sometimes we play really well but just not get the result. And so just finding that little extra push so that we can start winning games. Obviously the more you win the momentum you have and that’s what we want.

AfXI: I hate to change the subject really abruptly but while I was doing research for this interview, I was reminded you had a furniture assembly emergency. Did you ever manage to get that screw into the right position?

BB: Oh my goodness. I searched high and low for advice and whatnot, but I am currently using my desk right now. I actually went to Home Depot yesterday to get some sandpaper and actually sanded the screw down. Took me about like 10 minutes of just going at it. And it’s fully functioning now which, such a big relief, it was really stressing me out. I was just like, I want to use my desk for Zoom calls and stuff. And I didn’t really use anybody’s advice on Twitter, but they helped as much as they could. And I’ve learned to never tried to assemble furniture by myself anymore.

AfXI: It looked like from the picture that the screw head where you’re supposed to put in the driver, it got stripped. So the teeth wouldn’t bite anymore, and you couldn’t turn the screw? Is that what happened?

BB: Yeah, and I really didn’t want to try to take the screw out. I just was like, it’s only catching a little bit. I just need to shave it down a little bit. And everybody was giving me ideas of how to take it out. And I’m like, I just feel like this is so destroyed. I’d rather just shave it down so that’s how I went about it.

AfXI: Yeah, my advice would have been to take a rotary saw and chop off the head of the screw. And I was like, but why would you assume that everybody has a rotary saw in their house?

BB: I went into Home Depot not knowing if I should purchase just sandpaper or like a rotary saw. And so I was like, well, sandpaper’s cheaper, we’ll start with that. If it works, great. And if not, we’ll move on to the next thing.

AfXI: I wanted to close things out on kind of a fun note and jump into some rapid fire questions. What kind of cleats are you wearing? And do you have any you prefer?

BB: Oo yes, I wear the Adidas Nemeziz. They are my favorite.

AfXI: Can you explain why? How do they feel on your feet?

BB: Yeah, they’re just the the most comfortable. I’m really particular with how things hug my ankle. And these ones hug them very nicely and I have a wider foot so they fit that perfectly. Sometimes women’s shoes are super narrow or just don’t fit right. So these ones honestly just feel the softest and I like running in them. So that’s always a good thing. I am sponsored by Adidas. So I always go with them, obviously. And they do have a lot of options. They sent me a bunch and I got to pick which one I like the best. And luckily, there was one that I really, really enjoyed.

AfXI: How many cleats do you go through on average in a normal season?

BB: Oh, boy. Probably six or seven.

AfXI: What are you watching or reading or playing right now?

BB: Oh, okay. I’m watching two things pretty religiously. One is Designated Survivor. Netflix, and me and my roommate, Leah [Pruitt], we love reality TV. So we are watching America’s Next Top Model right now. And we absolutely love it. It’s on every night. We put it on for like three or four episodes because Netflix has it on.

AfXI: How many seasons of that are there now? Like twentysomething, the American version?

BB: Yeah, there’s 20 of them. And two of them are on Netflix. So we’re about to finish up the second one and I don’t know what we’re gonna do after. We’re gonna have to find some new reality show to watch.

AfXI: The player on the team who deals best with the cold and who deals worst with the cold?

BB: Wow, that’s a good question. Wow. Honestly, like anyone who’s from California does not deal with the cold well. They are bundled up all the time. I mean, yeah, right now it’s like mid 40s and they’re struggling, but then all of us Midwesterners, we’re still out in shorts at training. I can’t think of people in particular who you know, either like complain a lot or are overdramatic. Most people are in pants and sweatshirts. It’s been it’s been cold lately. It’s the wind here. The wind is killer.

AfXI: If you have to sum up your 2020 in a few words or sentence.

BB: Oh, boy. [laughing] Crazy. A lot of self growth. I learned a lot, but hope it never happens again. It’s one of those things where it’s like, I took everything I could from it. I took as many positives as I could, and good things came from it. But like, I’m good with having a different year this year, you know. You don’t have to go back to that. I could learn things in a better way.

AfXI: Right. We got through it. Let’s never do that again. And then if you had to sum up your hopes for 2021.

BB: Wow. That’s a good reflective question.

AfXI: On the pitch, off the pitch, it could be anywhere.

BB: I just, I feel like I’m at that age of life where I’ve - I mean, this is going to sound redundant. I’m really loving learning things and growing as a human being. And so I’m very hopeful to continue to unpack all that I am as a human, and how I can best apply that to the world, the soccer world, just my life in general, I guess.