The Cal women’s soccer team has only one active player that has more than five goals; No. 1 Stanford has five such players.
The Bears (12-5-2, 5-3-2 in the Pac-12) have lost two matches in the last two weeks; the Cardinal have not lost a regular season match since Oct. 21, 2008.
These are just a few comparisons to illustrate the gap between the Cardinal and the Bears as the two squads prepare for Saturday’s 7 p.m Bay Area Derby at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium in Stanford, Calif.
Needless to say, on paper Cal looks like huge underdogs against Stanford. But for forward Rachel Mercik, the Bears want to distance themselves from the underdog label this weekend.
“We do look like the underdogs on everybody’s else mind,” Mercik said. “But in our minds, we think Stanford is beatable, and we will give them a good fight.”
Stanford (18-0-1, 10-0) this season has been far from beatable. With their current non-losing streak in the regular season at 61 games, the Cardinal have blown away competition, most notably No. 4 UCLA by a 4-1 margin. Leading the conference in both goals scored and least goals allowed, Stanford looks to be tailor-made for a national championship.
Incredibly, the Cardinal have not yet won a national championship, their best result being runner-ups for the last two seasons. But after another undefeated year, there is no question around collegiate soccer that Stanford is the undisputed favorite for the NCAA tournament that begins next weekend.
For the Bears to dare get an upset victory or a tie at Stanford, the first thing in their long to-do list is to find a way to shut down the Cardinal’s three-headed goal scoring monster in Lindsay Taylor, Teresa Noyola and Chiome Ubogagu.
Although the Bears’ defense has been shaky, it has shown in the 0-0 tie against the Bruins a month ago that the defensive unit is able to shut down high-octane offenses like the Cardinal’s.
The main concern for Cal is its ability to keep possession and produce opportunities for the forwards like Mercik to get that all-important first goal. Over the week, the Bears focused primarily on ball possession and pressuring the defense during practice.
“All the other opponents before backed off defensively and let Stanford play in the middle,” Mercik said. “We want to be the one that plays around Stanford.”
The Bears have shown promise to be a Pac-12 contender in the first half of the season when injured striker Katie Benz made it all click. But after Benz’s loss, the Bears flickered on and off in their performance, blowing out opponents one day and getting upset by weaker teams.
All in all, the chances of Cal getting a point on Saturday are not near impossible. The Bears just need to flick on one last time this season.