As the whistle blew after No. 22 Colorado’s Taylor Kornieck’s golden goal, the No. 10 Cal women’s soccer team went to the ground dejected. It mounted an impressive comeback after overturning a two-goal deficit in regulation time, yet still ended up empty handed in the final seconds of the game, thanks to Kornieck and a very questionable refereeing decision.
The Bears had been on a remarkable run, going undefeated in the last nine matches, and they had been undefeated at home until this match. A win would have helped Cal’s bid for the Pac-12 title, but the loss and the results of its rivals have pushed the Bears to the fifth position.
The Buffs countered Cal’s 4-3-3 with an advanced 4-4-2 formation. Both teams tried to make the most of their opportunities in the first half, with Cal attempting 11 shots and Colorado attempting six. Colorado’s Danica Evans constantly troubled Cal’s defense with her quick feet and excellent dribbling skills.
“Playing with a dynamic two front, with good offensive midfielders is always gonna cause trouble for any team,”said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “For the most part, we did very well to deal with them, but they took their chances well.”
The Bears came close to scoring in the 25th minute through midfielder Emma Fletcher, who dribbled past four players to go into the box and release a well taken shot. The ball whizzed past the keeper but also past the post. Forward Arielle Ship nearly scored in the 30th minute, as she got the ball from a cross, executed a Cruyff turn to lose her marker and shot the ball. The shot was deflected, and winger Ifeoma Onumonu’s subsequent attempt went over the bar.
Colorado’s goals came in the 54th and 62nd minutes, through Evans, who was able to put the ball past Emily Boyd from the edge of the box.
With a two goal lead, Colorado put numbers at the back to resist the onslaught of Cal attacks that was to follow. The Buffs’ defense dealt with Cal’s creative play incredibly well from the midfield. They were able to restrict Fletcher’s creativity by tightly marking the front three and therefore not allowing them to capitalize on Fletcher’s impressive through balls in the box.
Colorado looked to be heading back from Berkeley with a win, but the script changed in the last two minutes of the match as Cal scored two goals to complete an impressive comeback. Defender Maggie Bell headed in from a Kelly Fitzgerald corner in the 88th minute, and a minute later, Onumonu collected Ship’s headed ball, turned and shot the ball to even up the score.
“It was an amazing performance,” McGuire said. “It’s good to know we can dig that deep because there are more games to come. It’s these types of moments that you can rely on when the tough times come.”
In overtime, the Bears came close to winning the game through Fletcher, whose shot hit the crossbar in the 95th minute. Cal’s fortunes, however, took a turn for the worse in the 110th minute, when the Buffs were awarded a free kick 30 yards from goal. The decision to award them a free kick was controversial, as it appeared that the Colorado player dived while coming in minimal contact with Fletcher. Colorado’s Stephanie Zuniga took the free kick and Kornieck headed it in.
While Cal was not outplayed by Colorado, it could have been more clinical in front of goal, with only two goals coming from 29 shots. Another factor that played against the Bears was the officiating of the match. Not only was the winning goal from a dubiously awarded free kick, but the officials also did not call two clear handballs from Colorado, with one of them being inside the box.
“I’ll let the Pac-12 deal with the refereeing decisions,” McGuire said. “It’ll be good for them to look at them. When you lose in the manner we did, it is challenging. It is unfair on the players, but it’s the nature of the game.