Cal women’s soccer squeezes past Arizona, remains unbeaten

Matt Lee/Staff

Related Posts

Two more games, two more wins and the unbeaten streak remains intact.

After a 2-1 victory over Arizona State on Friday, the No. 11 Cal women’s soccer team (9-0-3, 2-0-1 Pac-12) repeated that exact scoreline with a hard-fought win over the Arizona Wildcats (5-4-3, 0-3-0 Pac-12) on Sunday afternoon. With this pair of wins over the two Arizona schools, Cal maintained its unbeaten start to the season and bolstered its case for a top-10 national ranking.

Sporting pink jerseys in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and playing in front of more than 1,000 supporters at Edwards Stadium, Cal came out flying. In the fourth minute, a perfectly weighted through ball by Cal center back Nina Pedersen put forward Rachel Mercik in on goal, and the senior captain calmly slotted the ball into the bottom-left corner of the net to give her team an early 1-0 lead.

Cal continued to attack for the next 20 minutes and retained the grand share of possession, with Arizona managing a only couple of long-range shots that hardly bothered goalkeeper Emily Kruger. The Bears employed a direct style of play in the first half to combat Arizona’s high-pressure defending, a tactic that saw Cal’s defense playing a number of long passes over the top to the attacking trio of Mercik, Ifeoma Onumonu and Kory Lamet.

“If we possess the ball deeper, people are starting to press that, and so then we’re able to beat four or five of their players with one long entry pass,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “We’re not playing long ball — we’re trying to play balls into our target strikers and work off of it.”

When asked about Cal’s first-half performance, McGuire boasted that during the “first 45 minutes, we played as good as we’ve played all season.”

Unfortunately for Cal, the halftime break seemed to kill its momentum, as just seven minutes into the second half, Arizona forward Jazmin Ponce tied the score with a phenomenal goal. With the ball at her feet and Cal defender Emi Lawson in front of her at the top of the box, Ponce skillfully beat Lawson and then curled a stunning strike into the top-right corner of the net that left Kruger stranded.

“The goal (Arizona) scored was a world-class piece of finishing,” McGuire said. “We should do a better job of defending that, but we have to tip our hat to a great goal.

With the game tied, Cal picked up the pace and looked set to regain the lead in the 61st minute when a blatant foul committed inside Arizona’s box gave match referee Daniel Radford no choice but to blow for a penalty kick. Onumonu stepped up to take the spot kick, but to everyone’s surprise, her shot went soaring over the crossbar.

After the game, Onumonu conceded she was very disappointed with the penalty.

“I was a little bit nervous because I don’t usually take penalties, but I knew I had to make up for it once I missed,” Onumonu said.

Luckily for Cal, the sophomore forward was able to do exactly that, as she scored the game-winning goal just 10 minutes later. After a nice bit of combination play with outside back Genessee Daughetee down the left side of the field, Onumonu made a darting run to the front post and redirected the defender’s low cross into the net to give Cal a 2-1 lead.

The Bears — yet to allow a goal in the second half of a game this season — smothered Arizona’s last few attacking efforts to close out the game and maintain their 12-match unbeaten streak.

After a grueling stretch of four games in nine days, Cal can finally take a breather before two tough games against USC and UCLA this coming weekend.

Josh Netter covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].