The No. 17 Cal women’s soccer team has been on a remarkable run. Neil McGuire and his strategy led the Bears to an undefeated home record going into Sunday’s matchup with Washington State. The fans expected another routine win, with plenty of goals for the in-form forward line.
Cal was able to win the match to extend its winning run to five matches, but the match was far from comfortable for the Bears. Arielle Ship’s converted penalty served as the difference maker for Cal as it won, 1-0.
The Bears’ play style is very possession- and passing-based. The players like to keep the ball and subsequently try to create chances by opening up spaces on the field utilizing a pass-and-move strategy. McGuire’s team is very adept at playing through the wings, as both Ifeoma Onumonu and Abigail Kim are skilled dribblers who can cut inside from the sides or give very intelligent runs to leave their markers.
The Cougars, however, were able to give Cal a run for its money because of the high-intensity game that they play. Whenever the Bears tried to maintain possession, a WSU player would start pressing and try to force a mistake. WSU played with four physical midfielders, who overran the Cal trio.
The tough-tackling WSU midfielders stifled the Bears’ creativity for most of the game, as they had to rely on half-chances. WSU goalie Ella Dederick only had to make three saves. The Cougars, on the other hand, nearly scored when Nicolle Marlow hit the crossbar, but Kailiana Johnson could not put a rebound into the open net.
“Tactically, they play a system that we don’t face too often,” McGuire said. “They outnumbered us in the midfield, and that was a problem as they ran at our defense quite a lot. We took some time to adjust, and it was only after halftime that we were able to get something.”
WSU’s physical play was more prominent in the second half, as Cal tried to create from the midfield. The Cougars slid and pushed in order to prevent the forward line from collecting some well placed passes by Emma Fletcher. WSU defender Maegan O’Neill was given a yellow card by the referee for a hard tackle in the 49th minute.
Ship put Cal ahead in the 77th minute with a well taken penalty, her seventh goal of the season. WSU, on the other hand, was outraged with the referee’s call to award a penalty. The team protested, and was duly awarded a yellow card for arguing too much. This incident spurred on WSU, as it bombarded the Cal defense for the remaining minutes. The crowd grew very tense as the Bears held on to the ailing one-goal lead against a very motivated opponent. In the last two minutes of the game, Cal had to contend with three back-to-back corners as Dederick also joined in on the attack to help her teammates.
“As a backline they did great to contend with two very good strikers,” McGuire said of Cal’s back four. “It shows that the girls have great character and resilience to put their bodies on the line for a win.”