No. 10 Cal women’s soccer to clash with an equal foe in match against Utah

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Six conference games. Five wins, one draw, no losses. Sixteen points.

These statistics illustrate the No. 10 Cal women’s soccer team’s explosive performance in the Pac-12 so far.

Interestingly, they also represent the record of the Bears’ next opponent, Utah, in the Pac-12 too.

This Thursday, Cal will be hosting the Utes for what is a top-of-the-table clash and has the potential to be a cracking game of soccer.

A look at the records suggests this will be a close game, but a deeper reading of the numbers favors the Bears. Cal has scored 29 goals so far compared to the Utes’ 21. The Bears’ defense has been stingier too, though marginally, as it has conceded six goals to Utah’s eight. Five of Cal’s 29 goals have come from the penalty spot, though, as compared to Utah’s one.

The Utes will still be a tough prospect for the Bears, and Utah will be looking to end Cal’s undefeated home record. The Utes have been on a four-game win streak and also have a creditable away record of 4-1-2.

“Utah traditionally are well organized and keep possession very well,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “They like to keep possession in areas that can cause problems for us. So our ball retention and defensive organization is very important in this game.”

Cal’s defensive numbers have been very impressive throughout the season. The defensive back four has been able to contend with different offensive styles and come out strong. What is even more impressive is that, in spite of defender Annia Mejia’s injury, the substitutes, especially senior Lynsey Hromatko, have stepped up very well. The defense will have its work cut out, though, as it will have to deal with Utah forward Hailey Skolmoski, who has scored in the past four games and has scored 11 goals so far this season.

While Skolmoski will be a threat, expect Cal’s defense to come out on top. The most impressive defensive stat for the Bears is that goalkeeper Emily Boyd has been able to notch 10 clean sheets, which is tied third-most in the nation. Wing backs Haley Lukas and Heather Walleigh have also started playing a little deeper, which has rendered counter-attacking soccer against the Bears to be fruitless in the past few matches.

Even more impressive for Cal has been the seamless integration of freshman Mia Corbin into the starting lineup. She has thrived as a box to box midfielder in the absence of the injured Kelly Fitzgerald and will be crucial in retaining the ball against a possession-friendly Utah side.

“Mia has done a great job,” McGuire said. “Like a lot of starters, she has done a great job and has taken her opportunities very well. She has good feet and keeps the ball well. Very versatile on both offense and defense.”

Cal returns to Goldman Field after a three-match road trip. This match will be all the more crucial, as a win will allow the Bears some breathing room in second place in the Pac-12. If the league leader, No. 23 Colorado, loses to No. 3 Stanford, a Cal win would propel the Bears to the top of the table.

Devang Prasad covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DevangPrasad.