No. 19 Cal women’s soccer to take on No. 15 Texas Tech, Texas

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Four matches. Three wins. Three clean sheets. Not a bad start — not bad at all.

The No. 19 Cal women’s soccer team will head out for a trip to the Lone Star State this weekend, as it is slated to face No. 15 Texas Tech and Texas on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

The Red Raiders are undefeated with three wins and one draw, and they will be a stern test for Cal. Texas Tech has scored seven goals in these matches and conceded three. The Bears, on the other hand, have scored four and conceded one goal in the same duration. The Red Raiders’ high-powered offense will go up against Cal’s stingy and imposing defense, led by the dynamic junior Indigo Gibson. The Bears will have to maintain their discipline near the box, as Texas Tech’s Jordie Harr is a long-range specialist and scored a wonderful free-kick against New Mexico on Aug. 19.

“Our defense has performed brilliantly in the last four games,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “The loss to Santa Clara exposed some frailties, but for the most part, we have been very well-organized, committed and disciplined. Part of our offense starts with the defense as we have a lot of the ball and they distribute the ball well.”

McGuire’s 4-3-3 formation has seen Cal thrive defensively with Gibson and Annia Mejia having played unshakeably. Gibson is a solid ball-playing center back with great interception skills. Her long strides also enable her to carry the ball to midfield and open up defenses with accurate long balls. Her skillset will be useful for Cal against a team that has good long-range shooters, as she can force them out of scoring positions and launch attacks on her own.

The Longhorns, on paper, look to be an easier nut to crack for Cal. Texas has won two of its three matches until now, losing the other, but its defense seems to be shaky. The Longhorns let in a goal in each of their matches, and against a team like Cal that moves the ball quickly, they will find it tough to keep a clean sheet.

Cal’s major problems still happen to be in the finishing department. In four matches, the Bears have taken 65 shots (with 32 on target) and scored four goals. One of those goals came from the penalty spot with Kelly Fitzgerald scoring.

“We’re not taking enough goalscoring opportunities,” McGuire said. “Today’s practice was centered around creating opportunities and having the composure to finish them off. We can do much better considering the quality of our play.”

Cal’s wing play has been superlative, however, and will be crucial in creating chances for the team. An interesting tactic for the Bears would be to utilize the center forward in the hole between midfield and attack and to allow the wingers to converge in, creating holes for the midfielders to exploit.

The Bears will have to contend with a solid Longhorns offense that has scored six goals in its past two matches.

Cal’s midfield is expected to take center stage in both matches, with both Emma Fletcher and Fitzgerald being in fine form heading into the matches. Fletcher terrorizes defenses with her quick feet, while Fitzgerald is a tireless runner who can influence the game on both sides. Close to a complete modern midfielder, Fitzgerald has arguably been Cal’s best player on the field up until now.

“Kelly is a fantastic player,” McGuire said. “We have used her in a number of spots. She was a holding midfielder for two years and we moved her in a more advanced role as she is a good shooter. She was rewarded with a beautifully taken goal against New Mexico and a well-shot penalty against Portland.”

The away trip will be important for Cal to make a statement to the competing teams.

“We never talk about home or away too much and focus on the quality of our play,” McGuire said. “The team is in good shape, and the girls are looking forward to the challenge that both teams have to offer. We know these teams and their facilities well and are looking forward to the trip. We should be fine.”

Devang Prasad covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DevangPrasad.