The Cal women’s soccer team entered Friday’s game with one goal: to not get sucked into Penn’s direct style of play.
The Bears knew that the Quakers’ strategy generally included playing deep balls up the flanks and letting their forwards and midfielders run onto the ball.
If the Penn (2-3-0) offense caught Cal (6-2-0) off guard, the backfield would be vulnerable to breakaways.
While the Bears struggled to contain this aggressive style in the first half, they were more successful in the second. Despite these initial struggles, the Bears notched a 1-0 victory in front of a home crowd at Edwards Stadium.
“In the first half, we weren’t ready for them yet,” said Cal midfielder Betsy Hassett. “We made some adjustments at the half and the second half looked a lot better.”
Though the Bears felt less secure in the first half, they did score the game’s only goal in the 22nd minute. Forward Ifeoma Onumonu darted up the field with the ball, beat a defender, and played a cross in to Hassett. Though several Penn defenders surrounded her, Hassett was able to put it past goalkeeper Sarah Banks.
“The cross went through a player’s legs, landed at my feet, and I slotted it in,” Hassett said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Despite taking the lead, the Bears were under heavy fire and felt threatened throughout the first half. Cal recognized that those long balls were the Quakers’ primary source of offense, and the Bears’ defensive line adapted by holding the back line stronger and farther up the field.
“Penn changed its system of play from a 3-4-3 (formation) to a 4-4-2 to take away our strength,” said coach Neil McGuire. “We found it hard to find our rhythm.”
Cal’s best known strength is its midfield, which features Hassett, Taylor Comeau and Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick. The three are versatile midfielders adept at effectively transitioning between the defenders and forwards. Hassett tends to dribble the ball through the midfield and slot through balls to her forwards, whereas the others mix it up by passing up the flanks or playing long balls.
By switching to a 4-4-2 offensive formation, Penn added another player to the midfield to disrupt Cal’s balance and add more pressure. McGuire implemented a new strategy to counteract the effects of Penn’s new midfield-heavy formation.
“We wanted to take the ball from our defenders straight to our forwards,” McGuire said. “The midfielders would then support from behind.”
This strategy helped Cal gain offensive control, which aided the squad in controlling the pace of the second half. Though the threat of a Penn goal was always looming, the Bears won the tactical battle.
With the shutout, the Bears will enter their first conference matchup with a four game winning streak.
“We are in a good position going into conference,” Hassett said. “We have a lot of confidence.”