Bears’ offense fizzles in first action without Benz

Giana Tansman/Staff

Although the No. 17 Cal women’s soccer team prides itself on its depth at the forward position, its weekend trip north to the Evergreen State showed that quantity cannot replace injured forward Katie Benz’s quality up front.

The five forwards in the squad combined for one goal this weekend against Washington and Washington State. After scoring 30 goals in the first eight matches, the Bears have scored two in the last four matches.

Cal (8-3-1) ultimately paid the price for its goal drought as it failed to get a victory on the road. After tying the Huskies 1-1 on Friday, the Bears conceded two goals to the Cougars on Sunday, losing their third match of the season.

Despite outshooting both opponents 25-19, Cal produced only a handful of shots on target. The opposing goalkeepers for both teams only had three saves each from the non-threatening Bears offense.

“The forwards were not committed to attacking the defensive back line,” Cal coach Neil McGuire said. “They need to get space behind the line so they can create scoring opportunities.”

Despite the problems on offense, the Bears found some solace in their performances in the midfield. For much of the match against the Huskies (4-4-3), Cal controlled the flow of the match thanks to midfielders Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick and Betsy Hassett.

But ball control and tempo means little when it translates to no goals. When Washington took the lead in the 47th minute, Cal had an uphill battle to climb at the Husky Soccer Field where nearly 1,000 fans showed up.

In the 74th minute, the Bears took a sigh of relief when forward Rachel Mercik — who started in place of Benz — punched in the equalizer after midfielder Fitzpatrick’s rocket shot bounced off the crossbar. Yet Cal was unable to continue this newfound momentum for the remainder of the match.

Like the contest against the Huskies, the Bears retained the ball for most of the first half against the Cougars but failed to produce any goals.

Compared to the solid defense that Cal showed against Washington, the Bears were not up to par against Washington State. Cal did a shoddy job defending inside the penalty box and ultimately bestowed the hosts with two close-range goals in the 57th and 60th minute, from a cross and from a corner kick, respectively.

For McGuire, defending inside the penalty box has been a growing concern. After giving up two goals from set pieces in last week’s match against Santa Clara, the problem resurfaced again on Sunday.

“Set pieces or not, marking our opponents in the box in general is a concern,” McGuire said. “We will definitely work on it this week in practice.”

As the conference play heats up, McGuire and his squad seem to have a catalog of things to fix, a list deep as the attacking depth that was the pride of the team just a few weeks ago.