No. 19 Cal women’s soccer versus No. 15 Texas Tech. Defensive brilliance versus a then-undefeated team.
It was supposed to be a close match, considering the quality of both teams, but it turned out to be a one-sided affair as the Bears mauled the Red Raiders, 4-0, with Cal scoring through four different players in the match.
Star forward Arielle Ship started proceedings early as she notched her first goal of the season in the fourth minute. Ship expertly headed in a superbly placed cross from full-back Heather Walleigh, who glided past two defenders to send in beautifully curled ball from the right.
“I’m really pleased for Ari,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “She has been playing really well, and this was a goal that she needed. We had been working on providing better service to her and I was pleased to see her open the scoring for us.”
The goal allowed Cal to get more adventurous on the offensive end and this paid dividends 10 minutes later, as midfielder Miranda Nild was able to score her first goal of the season when she shot the ball in from the middle of the box.
Midfielder Kelly Fitzgerald increased the lead for her team in the 33rd minute, as she converted from the penalty spot. Fitzgerald released a strong shot to her left and scored her third goal of the season.
“Kelly has been exceptional,” McGuire said. “She is very composed and is a great leader. Her play has been crucial for the team as she is so versatile. She is fearless on defense and very accomplished on offense. I expect to see her get even better as the year goes on.”
Emma Fletcher scored her first goal of the season, as she placed the final nail in the coffin in the 63rd minute. The Bears dominated possession, passed around well in midfield and always looked to create chances. Texas Tech, however, did try to find openings as it was able to stack up 14 shots in the game. Cal’s defense coped well though, as only three of them were on target.
Cal’s offensive prowess was somewhat halted in its next game against Texas on Sunday, but the Bears were able to eke out a 1-0 win over the Longhorns thanks to Ifeoma Onumonu’s third goal of the season.
The match against the Longhorns was more evenly matched with both teams locked in a midfield battle in the first half. Cal’s midfield trio battled hard and distributed the ball well, with great support from the fullbacks’ overlapping runs. This resulted in Cal creating six chances, but none of them were clear cut, as the Longhorns were able to defend well. Nild and Ship had shots blocked by Texas defenders, while Fletcher had her shot saved by goalkeeper Paige Brown.
“It was system-to-system matchup with both teams playing a 4-3-3,” McGuire said. “Both systems canceled each other out. We had greater possession, but Texas put in a lot of numbers in defense which made it difficult to break them down.”
Fitzgerald again was very influential in the match, as she produced a moment of great vision and set-piece wizardry to post the assist for Onumonu’s goal. She took a quick free kick right outside the box to find Onumonu, who finished it from nine yards out.
McGuire’s defense was positioned well whenever Texas had possession. It was able to suffocate the Longhorns’ creativity in the attacking third. A very underrated aspect of defending is reducing the effective area for the opposing player to work with. Cal’s defensive pair of Indigo Gibson and Annia Mejia are able to do that, day in and day out.
All in all, it was a very well-balanced performance from the side and McGuire’s pragmatic approach to the game is turning out to be a very effective strategy, especially with the defense becoming the fulcrum for the team’s build-up play. Two wins on the road bode well for the team’s fortunes, and it will be ready to make an impact in the coming matchups.