Cal women’s soccer defeats USF, 4-1, to stay undefeated at home

Ethan Epstein/File

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Soccer is a beautiful game. The way the game is played, the mix of short and long passes, the scintillating runs, the physics-defying dribbles and, of course, the unbridled joy of putting the ball in the net all have a very distinct, inherent beauty about them. The No. 21 Cal women’s soccer team plays a style that is mesmerizing and keeps viewers entranced.

The Bears, however, had to deal with problems this Friday, as midfielder Kelly Fitzgerald suffered an injury and had to be helped off the field.

“Anytime any player gets hurt, you have to feel for her,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “I hope the injury is minor. I don’t know the diagnosis yet and our trainers will take care of it. If she can’t play, we’ve got other players to fill the bill. If she can play, then it’s good for us.”

Fitzgerald’s injury, however, did not get in the way of the Bears demolishing USF, 4-1. Forward Arielle Ship gave her best performance of the season as she popped up with two goals, while Abigail Kim and Maggie Bell scored the other two.

The scoreline fails to show that the opening 20 minutes of play were characterized by some very competitive end-to-end play. The Dons had come up with a good strategy to deal with Cal’s possession-style play, as they utilized high-pressing off the ball. The players constantly harrowed the Bears whenever they had the ball, and tried to cut off their passing lanes. It was only after McGuire brought in Indigo Gibson on defense that Cal started to look more composed on the ball. Gibson played as a right back this time around, with regular Heather Walleigh shifted further up on the right wing. Emma Fletcher went to the midfield after this shuffle up.

McGuire’s change paid off in the 30th minute as the first goal was facilitated by Fletcher and Walleigh. Fletcher’s instep through ball was met by Walleigh’s run on the left wing. Walleigh overpowered her marker and tried to put a low shot past Makayla Presgrave, but the USF keeper was able to get a hand on it. Ship’s predatory instincts kicked in, however, as she dove to put the rebound into the net — a brilliant move that was rewarded with a goal.

Cal’s next barrage of attacks came at the start of the second half as it was able to score two goals in the 53rd and 54th minute. Ship was able to execute a routine finish on a jaw-dropping solo run to score her — and the team’s second — goal. Then, Kim diverted Fletcher’s ball at the far post to score her second collegiate goal.

USF did pull one goal in the 60th minute through Jessica Nakae, spoiling goalie Emily Boyd’s clean sheet frenzy at home. Cal responded in empathic fashion, however, as Bell scored the Bears’ fourth goal in the 66th minute.

Ship and Fletcher were the architects of Cal’s win as both the players were unmatchable. Ship’s runs and ball control tormented USF’s defense, while Fletcher displayed some unparalleled on-field vision and dribbling. In the possible absence of Fitzgerald, both of them will have a bigger role to play for Cal.

“Anytime you can get in a win against a good team from the West Coast Conference we’re very happy,” McGuire said. “USF came in with a good plan and gave us troubles. We had to change some things, up our tempo, and the girls did a great job to adapt and get the win.”