Since the beginning of the season, midfielder Betsy Hassett has been waiting for Friday’s 4 p.m. tilt against No. 3 UCLA.
It’s not because of the close 1-0 losses Cal women’s soccer team (8-3-1) has suffered the past two years, or the bad blood that might have spilled within these contests.
It’s because Hassett’s best friend and fellow New Zealand national team player Rosie White is coming to Berkeley for the first time.
Hassett and White — who both hail from Auckland, New Zealand — have played on both the junior and senior national team for several years and were two of the players that represented New Zealand in the Women’s World Cup last summer. Now thousands of miles away from home, Hassett and White — a freshman at UCLA — will unite once again, but in different uniforms.
“This is the match I waited for a long time,” Hassett said. “I would have hoped for New Zealanders to come and watch the match, but we all know how far away New Zealand is.”
Although New Zealanders are not expected to flock to Edwards Stadium, there certainly will be large numbers to fill the stands this weekend as the Bears host the Bruins (10-0-1) and USC (3-9).
The undefeated Bruins have been near-perfect on defense, allowing only four goals in the entire season. Although its offense has not lit up the scoreboard like the Bears did earlier in the season, UCLA has scored at least one goal in every game, which is just enough to get that 1-0 victory.
On the flip side, Cal has recently hit a goal drought and conceded too many goals in the past four games. After amassing 30 goals in the first eight matches of the season, the Bears scored two in the last four games.
After the loss of star striker Katie Benz to injury, Cal coach Neil McGuire has been searching for answers to somehow score against the Bruins’ stonewall defense.
“Losing Katie had forced some of our players to learn new movements to replace her role,” McGuire said. “But I do think we will be able to generate more offense than we did in the last weeks.”
In order for the offense to start clicking against UCLA, Cal will hope that Rachel Mercik, Benz’s replacement, can become the lethal striker she showed in glimpses last week. In last week’s trip north to Washington and Washington State, Mercik scored the lone goal of the week.
But even if Mercik is able to morph into a striker apt to be named Benz’s successor this week, the Bears certainly will need more help from their midfielder playmakers like Hassett to pull off the momentous upset against the Bruins.
“To beat a UCLA squad with that kind of reputation and the players they have will be great mark for the team,” McGuire said. “We will prove to many that we can compete on a national level later on in the season.”