No. 16 Cal women’s soccer faces off against No. 5 USC

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Generally, people like to save the best for last — the fact that dessert follows dinner is evidence enough for this. But when it comes to the last three games of the season — arguably its toughest — for the No. 16 Cal women’s soccer team (13-2-1, 6-1-1), that old adage may not be so applicable. With a trip to Southern California that sees the Bears face off against No. 5 USC and No. 6 UCLA in the span of four days, Cal will be facing the best of the Pac-12, and it will undoubtedly be its biggest challenge to date.

The Bears will face USC (13-1-1, 7-0-1) in an attempt to deal the Trojans their first conference loss of the season. USC has a lone tie in Pac-12 play, which came in double overtime to Utah, a team that the Bears beat 2-0 on the road nearly three weeks ago.

The Trojans are the defending national champions and are undoubtedly looking to repeat their title — an entirely achievable feat, given their performance so far this season. USC puts up an astonishing 18.3 shots per game, nearly half of which are on goal. If Cal’s senior goalkeeper Emily Boyd hasn’t really been tested as a result of the team’s good back line defense so far, she most certainly will be now.

The heart of the Trojans’ offense is redshirt senior forward Alex Anthony, who has 7 goals on the season so far — the same number as the Bears’ star forward sophomore, Abi Kim. Since her sophomore year, Anthony has started every regular season game for USC and is its go-to up top, with a strong ability to receive and hold the ball in order to find an open teammate.

Anthony is joined up top by freshman Tara McKeown, who is tied for most assists on the team. McKeown and Anthony work seamlessly up top, a partnership that will have to be greatly disrupted by Cal defenders Indigo Gibson, Haley Lukas and Emily Smith if the Bears want to put a damper on the Trojans’ offense. This task, while difficult, shouldn’t prove impossible for a defense that ranks sixth in the nation in average goals-against and fifth in save percentage.

While Anthony has been rolling for USC — notching at least 1 goal in three of her past five games — Kim has been facing trouble against Pac-12 defenses that have put high and early pressure on the speedy Bears forward. Early in the season, Kim found great success finding space to run onto the ball, but she has not yet shown that she can be as lethal with constant pressure on her. If the Bears’ offense is going to find the back of the net, it is going to have to build up slowly and not rely on the through-ball or turn-and-go play to Kim.

The Bears have indeed saved their best competition for last — this will be the first time that Cal will play a higher-ranked opponent since mid-September — and a win against the defending-champion Trojans would undoubtedly be the icing on the cake of an already-successful season. But the ultimate gratification of a win will be hard to get, and Cal will have to fight tooth and nail to get it.

Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]

Sophie Durham covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].

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