Despite playing annually against top-five Pac-12 juggernauts like Stanford and UCLA, the No. 17 Cal women’s soccer team’s most difficult conference opponent could potentially be Arizona State.
In their last three outings against the Sun Devils, the Bears (7-1) failed to finish the game within the regular 90 minutes of play. In the three overtime tilts, Cal won only once — thanks to a golden goal by Lisa Kevorkian in 2009 — and tied the other two.
“In those three matches, we played two at Arizona State and they are very comfortable in their weather and elements,” defender Emi Lawson said. “I think we will get a very different result this weekend.”
This Friday’s match might be the one that ends the streak. Now equipped with an explosive offense and a national ranking, the Bears are looking forward to getting a win against a shaky Arizona State (4-4) at 4 p.m. at Edwards Stadium.
Cal will then take a trip to the South Bay to play against its first nationally ranked opponent, No. 21 Santa Clara (3-1-4), on Sunday at noon.
For the past few years, the Sun Devils has been a mid-table team in the Pac-12, and this season, it looks to be no different. Although Arizona State has had some bright spots in its season, like defeating then-No. 21 South Carolina on Aug. 28, there are as many dark clouds — like their 5-0 whopping by Texas Tech — that fog up the Sun Devils’ season.
But if there is a compliment — or an insult — that can be said about Arizona State, it is that they are incredibly aggressive and physical in their play. Compared to the Bears’ 58 fouls this season, the Sun Devils have collected 85 fouls. In last year’s contest between Cal and Arizona State, there were a total of 27 fouls and four yellow cards, three of which went to the Sun Devils.
“Arizona State comes out with a mentality that cannot be bent,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said.“They have an excellent coach in Kevin Boyd, and he instilled a great team structure and aggressiveness in defense.”
It is no surprise that McGuire have such a high level of respect for the opposing coach. Boyd was the head coach for the Bears from 1997 to 2006, leading them to the NCAA tournament eight times until being replaced by McGuire in 2007. Thanks to the solid foundation that Boyd built, McGuire eased into his new role.
In his fifth year at Cal, McGuire has developed a potent offense this season. Led by forward Katie Benz’s 10 goals this season, the Bears’ offense is currently ranked fourth in the nation with 3.75 goals per game. On the flip side, Arizona State ranks third in the conference in most goals allowed.
With tougher matches against the Cardinal and the Bruins on the horizon, Cal sees Friday’s tilt as a way to ease into conference play.
“The stakes are a bit higher when we play our conference opponents,” Lawson said. “A lot of them are ranked, so if we can defeat them, it will help our rankings and positions at the NCAA tournament.”