Cal women’s soccer draws with Utah, 1-1, set to face Colorado next

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Joshua Jordan/Staff

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The match is into the 92nd minute, and the No. 10 Cal women’s soccer team has the ball in Utah’s half. Midfielder Emma Fletcher launches the ball deep, but Utah intercepts it. The Ute defender, however, bundles the interception, and Cal forward Arielle Ship latches onto the ball. Ship makes her way into the box and releases a shot to the keeper’s right. The ball beats the keeper but hits the post, and Utah is able to clear it.

Had Ship’s shot been millimeters to the right, Cal would have walked away with its 13th win of the season, but the miss meant it had to be content with a draw.

The Utes came out strong in the first half, utilizing a double pivot in midfield to negate Cal’s attacking flow. Katie Rogers played the role of the deep-lying midfielder with Cabria Turang dropping deep to offer defensive support. The modified 4-5-1 helped Utah in isolating Cal players when they had possession and forced them to make mistakes.

The Bears still were able to attack, with Ship coming close to scoring in the sixth minute, as she held off her defender and curled a low shot to goalie July Mathias’ right. Mathias, although blindsided by her defenders, was able to pull off a very impressive save.

The Utes drew first blood in the 23rd minute through Taylor Slattery. Slattery held off her marker at the right and then twisted to push the ball farther. She then curled the ball into the net and broke Boyd’s impressive run of not conceding a goal for 223 minutes of play.

“Utah took advantage of the fact that we started out flat,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “I thought we were sluggish in the first half. After they scored a very nice goal, I thought our team did a very good job of re-finding their tempo and energy and they were rewarded with a goal in the second half.”

McGuire’s tactical switch of changing from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 allowed his wingbacks to be more adventurous in Cal’s search for an equalizer. The wingbacks going forward also helped the midfield to absorb less pressure from the double pivot that Utah was deploying.

The Bears shot thrice before redshirt senior Ifeoma Onumonu equalized for Cal in the 60th minute. Fullback Haley Lukas sent in a beautifully weighted cross from the left and Onumonu headed it in to score her ninth goal of the season.

The goal gave Cal the impetus to start attacking more, and midfielder Emma Fletcher was at the center of the action as she gave a very impressive and energetic performance in the middle of the park. Fletcher tracked back, intercepted, dribbled past and picked out some very crucial build-up passes.

“I think I gave away from some pretty silly passes, which was frustrating,” Fletcher said. “I think I worked well in offense and got back on defense pretty well, though that was tiring. I just think I could have cleaned up some of my passes and gotten more of my shots on target. Overall it was alright, I guess.”

The last minutes of regulation time and overtime was characterized by Cal throwing everything in attack and Utah looking to counter. Rogers came close to scoring for the Utes in the 95th minute, as her header hit the crossbar. Natalie Vukic also nearly scored, but a terrific save from Boyd denied Utah the win.

The draw puts Cal one point behind their next opponent, No. 22 Colorado. The Buffs currently sit on top of the Pac-12 standings and are 6-1-0 in Pac-12 play so far. The match will be a top-of-the-table clash, and considering Colorado’s fine form, Cal will be in for a tough fight.

“This (game) will be good for us in preparing for Colorado,” Fletcher said. “They’re definitely a solid team that we can hope to beat. Everybody will be fired up for that game, and we need to recover physically and prepare.”

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