There is an aphorism in soccer that the most dangerous times during a match is in the first five minutes of each half.
As the first five minutes of each half are spent usually warming up for the next 40 minutes, it leaves the defense vulnerable for any team that quickly attacks from the start.
The Cal women’s soccer team (10-3-2, 3-1-2) couldn’t score in the first five minutes of either half — let alone in any of the regular 90 minutes – against Arizona on Friday night.
But in 46 seconds of the first half in extra time at Mulcahy Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., the Bears clinched the golden goal to win the match, 1-0, when forward Rachel Mercik scored her fourth of the season.
Arizona is currently en route to its worst season in program history, as it regressed from their 5-13-2 record last year. But when it came to playing Cal, the Wildcats (1-11-2, 1-4-1) showed no problems in playing on par with the Bears.
For most of the 90 minutes, there was little offensive action between the two squads. Of the 18 shots taken by Cal and Arizona, only six were on target and none were really threatening for either goalkeepers.
The closest chance in regulation time may have come in the final minute of the first half, when defender Danielle Brunache’s opportunity to score from a corner kick was saved by Wildcats goalkeeper Ashley Jett.
“The match was a defensive struggle for both offenses,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “We had trouble finding the rhythm of play.”
Heading into extra time, the Bears’ main emphasis was to develop some flow to slowly advance and attack the Wildcat defense.
But less than one minute into the additional period, Cal found the offensive spark it needed as freshman midfielder Taylor Comeau found Mercik open in the middle of the penalty box. The striker buried the shot in the bottom left corner of the net.
Both Comeau and Mercik has been surprising revelations for McGuire in the last few weeks. Comeau stepped up significantly since the start of conference play, chalking a goal and two assists in the last two matches against the Wildcats and USC.
As the successor of injured star striker Katie Benz, Mercik has aptly filled Benz’s goalscoring boots as she scored four of the last six goals. After coming off a season-ending foot injury last October, Mercik has made a full recovery that ultimately earned her the starting forward job when Benz broke her leg against Santa Clara a month ago.
“Ever since coming back from surgery, her performance is improving every time she plays,” McGuire said.
With young players like Comeau and Mercik stepping up midseason, the Bears are enjoying possibly their best season in nearly half a decade.
The victory at Arizona also marks the tenth victory of the season for the Bears. With five matches still left on the schedule, the squad has already eclipsed last year’s win total of nine.
After struggling to win more than 10 matches in the last three years, Cal can possibly finish with the best record since McGuire took over the program in 2007.