An old soccer adage claims offense may win games, but defense wins championships.
The Cal women’s soccer team is hoping this adage proves prophetic as it begins its NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament run. The squad has shown its defensive prowess throughout the season, but it must face a dynamic offense in its first-round matchup.
In order to make their championship dreams come true, the Bears must first defeat a familiar formidable foe in Bay Area rival Santa Clara.
“A lot is on the line — our season is on the line,” said Cal forward Grace Leer. “It is going to be a battle. We need to take every minute seriously, because we lose and we go home.”
If the caliber of the first-round opponent wasn’t enough to intimidate Cal, the team must also travel away from Bear Territory. The Bears (11-4-5) will face the No. 9 Broncos (14-4-1) at 1 p.m. at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara. The road has not been friendly to Cal this season, as the squad has lost only one home game but suffered losses in three away matchups.
The Bears do have the advantage of already having played the Broncos in Santa Clara earlier this season, however. The two teams faced off in a September matchup that was so close that two overtime periods could not break the stalemate. At the time, Cal was ranked No. 12 and Santa Clara No. 22. The two teams engaged in a fierce shootout, tallying 41 total shots but notching only one goal apiece.
“It is nice to know that we have knowledge about how Santa Clara plays,” Leer said. “We are a lot more prepared than if we were playing someone new.”
This time, Cal enters the game as the underdog, unranked after finishing conference play on a rocky streak. Santa Clara, on the other hand, enters the game ranked ninth in the nation. The Broncos also have a prolific offensive line that has helped the team earn a share of the West Coast Conference title. The squad has netted 57 goals and averages almost 19 shots per game. Cal, on the other hand, has scored 32 goals and averages a slightly lower 14.4 shots per game.
“We are aware that they are able to score, and our defense is making the right adjustments to shut down their scorers who are going to be big factors for us to deal with,” Leer said.
While Santa Clara may boast more impressive offensive statistics, the Bears have proven more stalwart on defense through the course of the season. The Bears have allowed only 17 goals, compared to the Broncos’ 22. If Cal’s defensive line lives up to its billing, the offense need only capitalize on chances to gain the upperhand over Santa Clara.
“If we can play the game that we are used to playing … it will be a very even battle,” Leer said. “I think that it will be a very close matchup, but I have a feeling we are going to come out on top. If we want it more than Santa Clara does, we will come out with the win.”
Taylor Brink covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]