No. 21 Cal women’s soccer faces tough challenge as it hopes to right ship against No. 3 Stanford

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The No. 21 Cal women’s soccer team has had its fair share of ups and downs this season. The team started strong, but a couple of negative results and the fierce competition of the Pac-12 has taken its toll on the team. None of that will matter Friday, however, as Cal prepares to wrap up its regular season against No. 3 Stanford.

The Bears’ season, which started out with so much promise, was derailed in their last few matches by losses to Colorado and Arizona. Cal currently sits at fifth place on the Pac-12 table with 20 points, and a win over its rivals will only be able to move it one place up.

Stanford is the current Pac-12 leader with 27 points and is on a six-game winning streak that includes wins over conference heavyweights Colorado, UCLA and Utah.

When both teams met last season, the match ended in a 1-1 tie, with defender Annia Mejia scoring her first collegiate goal for Cal. Stanford’s Alanna Cook denied the Bears the pleasure of victory as she scored in the 80th minute to force a draw.

Stanford is undoubtedly Cal’s toughest opponent this season. It has remained in the top 5 of the NCAA rankings throughout the season and is on a hot streak considering its recent performances. The team has scored 16 goals in the past six games, with Andi Sullivan having scored six of those. Another key player for the Cardinal will be Kyra Carusa, who has stacked up 10 assists in the season.

The Bears will be relying on the attacking trio of Arielle Ship, Ifeoma Onumonu and Abigail Kim to provide the firepower required to beat Stanford. The triumvirate has combined to score 22 goals in the season, with Onumonu being the leading scorer with 10. Another goalscoring threat for Cal will be midfielder Kelly Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald recently returned to the team following a seven-game absence because of injury.

She came back with a bang when she scored two goals in the last two games. Cal’s abundance of goalscorers will be supported by the superb creative skills of midfielder Emma Fletcher, who has bewitched viewers and opposing players alike with her arsenal of skill moves and dribbles. Fletcher also possesses a keen eye for a penetrating pass that should keep the Stanford defense on its toes throughout the game.

Although Cal’s offense is impressive, Stanford’s offense has been statistically superior. The Cardinal outshine the Bears in every offensive stat except shots and shots on goal percentage. Worryingly for Cal, Stanford has also been the more clinical side of the two, with a superior goals-to-game ratio. Five of Stanford’s players have tallied five or more goals this season, as compared to the Bears’ three players.

While Cal’s defense earned plaudits for its performance throughout the season, its recent performances haven’t been up to scratch. The defense has conceded six goals in the past four matches. To put that into perspective, the same defense had conceded six in the first 15 games of the season. Critically, three of these goals have come in the overtime period.

The game promises to be a back-and-forth affair, with Stanford arguably being under greater pressure. The Cardinal play against their biggest rivals at Cal’s home ground in front of a partisan crowd. Moreover, a loss for them and a win for USC would mean that the Pac-12 title will go to the Trojans. Cal, on the other hand, has nothing to lose in the match, and the players will be waiting for the opportunity to take the game to their biggest rivals.

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