“I’ve told the players I’m very proud of them because no one has been able to break us so far,” said Cal women’s soccer head coach Neil McGuire after Friday’s USC matchup extended the Bears’ undefeated streak to 13 games.
Unfortunately for the No. 8 Bears, No. 2 UCLA did break through the steely Cal defensive line to hand the Bears their first loss of the season Sunday.
Cal’s demanding weekend pitted the Bears first against USC (5-6-2, 0-3-1 Pac-12) on Friday. The Trojans’ second-half equalizer forced a double-overtime showdown before it resulted in yet another tie for the Bears. Cal (9-1-4, 2-1-2 Pac-12) bounced back from its fourth double-overtime tie of the season to face second-ranked UCLA (12-1-1, 4-0-1 Pac-12) to close out the weekend. The Bears could not overcome the 1-0 first-half deficit and succumbed to their first defeat of the season.
Sunday’s matchup set Cal against its highest-ranked opponent of the season. The Bruins fortified their ranking in the first half, forcing Cal goalkeeper Emily Kruger off her line often.
“In the first half, we were heavy-legged from the double-overtime game against USC, and we hadn’t recovered and we weren’t sharp,” said McGuire.
Eventually, the fast pace and the physicality paid off for UCLA, as a corner kick in the 27th minute proved rewarding. Bruin Rosie White sent the ball into the box from the right corner, sending Kruger diving left for a save. Amid the scramble, UCLA’s Sarah Killion got a foot on it, sending it back toward the right before Kruger could recover.
“We are all still a little confused,” Kruger said. “As that ball came across through the 18, I lost it in a muddle of people. Unfortunately for us, it popped out back the way I came from, and I didn’t get my eye on it until it had passed me.”
The goal gave the Bruins the 1-0 lead and cemented their stance as the dominant force in the first half. The Bears returned to the field rejuvenated and had UCLA on its heels in the second half.
Early in the second half, Cal midfielder Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick received the ball, turned and split two defenders under pressure and fired a long shot just over the crossbar. Later in the half, a Bear corner kick mirrored the Bruins’ goal in the first half, as UCLA goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland dove to the ground amid a scramble, resulting in another close chance for the Bears.
Despite the increased level of play, the Bears were unable to record an equalizer, and the Bruins emerged as the victors. The loss snapped Cal’s 13-game unbeaten streak and resulted in mixed emotions for the Bears.
“Today we came out and the result is a loss, but that performance in the second half is by and far the best we’ve played,” said Kruger. “We can see we have it in us … We are one of the best teams.”
Kruger’s optimistic view is tempered by her coach’s more grounded one.
“They are not happy with it,” said McGuire. “This team wants to win, and they want to win every game, so there are no moral victories no matter how well we played in the second half.”
Taylor Brink covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]