The Cal men’s soccer team is coming off an abysmal 2011 season; its female counterpart is returning from its most successful season under coach Neil McGuire. While the men’s team is currently unranked, the women’s team is in the top 15.
But the question of who’s the better Cal soccer team should not be based on history and rankings — it should be based on potential and prospects. With that criteria, the men are the clear-cut victor in this battle of the sexes.
When one looks at the men team’s record this season, one needs to be aware that team was heading toward a multi-year rebuilding phase after the 2010 season. In 2010, the Bears won the conference and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. But the mass exodus of veteran talent to the MLS left the inexperienced Bears in shambles.
Last year, the Bears finished the season with a 3-9-5 record and only 18 goals scored. Now keep that in mind and look at the success this season — they have won five of eight games and chalked in 17 goals already.
This was a team destined for a five-year rebuilding plan two years ago; now it is knocking on UCLA’s door, asking for the Pac-12 title.
This men’s team is growing exponentially after every game, and it has a bright future ahead. Sophomores Christian Dean and Seth Casiple are the rising stars of the program, both being invited to train with the United States under-20 national team. While such an opportunity may not be on the same scale as the Olympics, joining the United States men’s national team is infinitely more competitive than say, Betsy Hassett joining the New Zealand women’s national team.
But with growth comes growing pains, and the Bears endured some setbacks early in the season. The most notable was the 6-0 loss at No. 1 Maryland, the lone black mark sticking out in an otherwise impeccable campaign.
But let me justify this loss. First, it’s to No. 1 Maryland — the vast majority of its players have a shot of making the MLS someday. Second, Maryland ran up the score late in the second half, bloating the scoreboard. Third, the game was played in unbearingly hot and humid weather, which the players said took a huge toll on their stamina.
But the men’s team has bounced back since the loss and hasn’t lost a game since the Maryland match. Sure, the women are riding a high wave too this season, but it’s the gentlemen that hold all the momentum.
Simply put, Edwards Stadium is male territory.
— Seung Y. Lee
The Cal women’s soccer team may have one more loss than its male counterpart thus far this season, but that is not a sign of inferiority.
It is the women who hold the No. 15 rank in the national polls, whereas the men remain unranked. The men (5-2-1) may have logged fewer losses, but the women (7-3) are stronger relative to their national competition.
The women have also shown great resilience, bouncing back from losses in dominant fashion. For instance, after two tough defeats against No. 19 Santa Clara and Missouri in the same week, the Bears rebounded with a decisive 4-1 victory over Cal Poly, followed by a 3-0 shutout of USF.
This ability to recover emanates from the squad’s versatility and stability. The women have let in only 10 goals — one fewer goal than the men — but have scored seven more goals.
The Bears’ offense has scored 14 more goals than its opponents this season, with 11 different players scoring at least once in the squad’s first 10 games. Cal’s offensive depth is particularly potent in the versatility that results from seeing different combinations of capable players on the pitch.
Freshman phenom Ifeoma Onumonu burns defensive lines with her speed and physicality, which have helped her to knock in four goals for the Bears. Grace Leer and Lauren Battung bring experience to the offense, and Mekenna DeBack has developed a reputation for scoring with her head. With all of these threats sharing time in the forward position, the Cal offense is diverse, unpredictable, and effective.
And if defensive stability and offensive versatility weren’t convincing enough, the Bears’ greatest strength is their midfield.
Which brings us to the match-point argument.
How many members of the men’s squad are Olympians? Oh, that’s right. The only current Bear to have represented Cal on the soccer pitch in the Olympics is women’s soccer star Betsy Hassett.
The midfielder has four goals and four assists so far this season and has been a dominant force both offensively and in transition play. The triple threat of her, Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick and Taylor Comeau has other teams scrambling to find a way to shut them down.
Few of these challengers have been successful, which is why the Bears continue be a threat on the national stage.
Sorry boys, this contest goes to the ladies.
— Taylor Brink
Seung Y. Lee and Taylor Brink cover men’s and women’s soccer respectively.