With a trip to the elite round of 16 on the line, the Bears will look to upset the Aztecs in a high-stakes game.
Cal women’s soccer will face San Diego State on Friday in second-round play of the NCAA tournament. The No. 17 Bears (16-5) and the No. 4 Aztecs (20-1-1) will kick off at 7 p.m. at the SDSU Sports Deck.
Cal enters as a decisive underdog against two-seed San Diego State. The Aztecs have only lost one match all season and won the Mountain West conference championship. Despite these factors, the Bears maintain their confidence heading into the matchup. In fact, they relish their status as the underdog.
“(San Diego State has) higher expectations on them,” Cal head coach Neil McGuire said.“Our players can play free and not worry about expectations.”
The Bears are also comfortable in their position as the visiting team. The squad excels on the road and has only lost one road game all year to then-No. 2 UCLA.
Cal enters the San Diego State matchup fueled by another road win against No. 22 Pepperdine in one of the most competitive opening round games in the tournament. Cal scored the game-winning goal with three minutes left in regulation to move past the Waves.
“That was definitely a boost for our morale,” Cal goalkeeper Emily Kruger said. “We have full belief we can get a W.”
Though the Bears will enter the game with high spirits, they will find a formidable opponent in the Aztecs. The team often generates offense by sending its outside defenders up the flanks, and defender Tiffany Hurst is one of the top three scorers on the team.
However, the Bears can also look to exploit this tactic by taking advantage of resulting mismatches and fatigue.
“Both teams are clearly good enough to win this match,” said McGuire. “It will come down to critical moments and who can handle pressure in front of the goal.”
Cal will look to counter these strengths by sticking to its trademark method of play. The team favors slotting quick through balls up to forwards and outside midfielders in order to get behind the defense.
The Bears’ offense will have to execute these tactics well, as San Diego State’s defense is one of the most esteemed in the nation.
“At this point in the season, it is just about doing what we have established and has been working well for us,” said Kruger. “If we just bring it like we did throughout the season we know we can win.”
For offensive chances, Cal will likely look for freshman forward Ifeoma Onumonu, who continues to lead the Bears in goals with 11 and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.
Both teams boast sturdy defenses and explosive offenses, and the matchup pits the two each other with the postseason on the line in what promises to be one of the titanic games of the season.
“I think it comes down to mentality and attitude,” said Kruger. “And if we play with heart down to the 90th minute, whoever can bring the refuse-to-lose mentality will come out on top.”