Cal women’s soccer falls to No. 5 USC on road

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Kayla Brown/File

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Sometimes, what goes around comes around. October has, to this point, been kind to the No. 16 Cal women’s soccer team (13-3-1, 6-2-1). After a loss on the first of the month, the Bears have won every game since then — five in a row to be exact, until now. Nearing both the end of October and the end of the regular season, Cal fell to No. 5 USC 1-0 in a heated Southern California matchup.

The entire first half was a back-and-forth event, with both teams having their respective stretches of superior possession and attacking.

The Bears ramped up their attack towards the end of the first 45 minutes, with a goal nearly coming in the 40th minute when redshirt senior Kelly Fitzgerald found her way into the box and dribbled it to the endline, slotting the ball back to the penalty spot for sophomore Maggie Bell to run on to. Bell, however, was marked tightly and sent the ball far over the goal as she was pushed to the ground. That shot was one of five shots on goal for the Bears in the first half — a meagre offensive showing compared to the 13 that the Trojans put up in that same half.

That glimpse of offensive potential from Fitzgerald and Bell was the closest the Bears would get for the remainder of the game. USC came out in the second half looking like a team possessed, pushing forward against a fatigued-looking Cal defense.

The Trojans finally broke through in the 53rd minute, when midfielder Ashleigh Plumptre dribbled the ball through a field of multiple Bears about 25 yards from the goal and fired a shot off from just outside the 18-yard box. The ball was beautifully and powerfully lofted into the top-right corner, just out of reach of senior goalkeeper Emily Boyd. The goal marks the first that Boyd and the Bears have given up since that loss back on October 1st.

As the game wound down, the physicality increased, as did the frustration of the Bears, who in the waning minutes committed unnecessary turnovers and forced the ball forward. Cal, despite multiple pushes, was unable to net an equalizer and fell to the Trojans 1-0.

The Bears, however, have one last chance to end the month on a high note. With a Sunday matchup against No. 6 UCLA (13-1-2, 6-1-1), Cal can pull off a win in Southern California to rectify for its loss to USC.

The Bruins’ only loss of the season came against Washington State in a closely contested 1-0 game, where UCLA was unable to come back from a goal that it gave up early on. The high level of skill that the Bears saw against the Trojans will likely be present again, as the Bruins are known for their physicality on the ball and firepower offense.

UCLA averages 2.56 goals per game — a massive showing for any collegiate team, especially one in the highly competitive Pac-12. The Bruins also put nearly half of their shots on frame, meaning that Boyd may be in for another busy day. Most of those shots are taken by junior forward Hailie Mace, who has netted 13 of UCLA’s 41 total goals this season. Cal’s defense will have to do a better job of tracking and bodying the Bruins’ offense if they want a chance at winning this contest.

The Bears, who play with a single forward up top — usually sophomore Abi Kim — might also have to reconsider their offensive strategy. Moving the ball slowly up and relying on their single forward to hold and distribute the ball didn’t work against USC, and it likely won’t work against UCLA. If they want to find the back of the net, the Bears will have to push more numbers forward and generate more offensive opportunities.

With the postseason fast approaching, it is important that the Bears put up strong showings against other high-powered competitors. A win against UCLA would not only help Cal bolster their rankings in the Pac-12, but also nationally — at a time when rankings are beginning to matter more and more.

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

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