One of the worst things that can happen in soccer is being beaten by your biggest rivals at your own home ground. Even worse is when the defeat happens to be a resounding one. On Friday, the No. 21 Cal women’s soccer team suffered a big 4-1 loss to arch rivals, No. 3 Stanford. The Bears not only ended up on the losing side in the Bay Area Derby, but they also had to suffer the ignominy of watching the Cardinal lift the Pac-12 Trophy at Edwards Stadium.
Both teams started on the pitch with their versions of the 4-3-3 formation. From the get go, Cal tried to dominate possession, and Stanford pressed as hard as it could. This would be the underlying strategic theme of the game, one that the Bears were unable to contend with.
The Cardinal nearly scored an early goal when Andi Sullivan took a stab from outside the box. Her shot was hard and low, hitting the post. The Cardinal recorded seven shots in the first half, as opposed to Cal’s three.
Cal also came close in the early minutes as winger Ifeoma Onumonu tried to curl a low shot in from the left, inside the box. Her shot lacked power, however, and Stanford goalkeeper Jane Campbell was able to collect it comfortably.
The Cardinal broke the deadlock in the 13th minute through Michelle Xiao. Andi Sullivan, who was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch, sent in a curling cross from right midfield to the far post. Cal fullback Heather Walleigh was unable to head it out, and Xiao propped in to score her first goal of the season.
The Bears then equalized two minutes later through forward Arielle Ship, who collected Ifeoma Onumonu’s low pass in the middle of the box, evaded her defender and sent in a low strong shot into the goal.
Cal enjoyed greater spells of possession in the first half, but Stanford’s ability to maintain shape in midfield and defense, as well as press the ball well, rendered its possession play useless.
“We weren’t moving off the ball very well, which gave the players on ball no choice but to play it long or run with it,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “They were able to pick us off easily on that.”
If Cal presented some threat in the first half, that was all but nullified by a superior Stanford performance in the second half. The Cardinal’s off-the-ball movement was exactly what the Bears were missing when they had possession, and Stanford made them pay as it scored three goals.
The Cal defense had to change faces, as Indigo Gibson was substituted because of a nose injury. Gibson had arguably been Cal’s finest defender this season, and her absence caused the defensive unit to capitulate. Sullivan capped off a fine performance in midfield with a goal in the 56th minute. She dispossessed Miranda Nild on the right wing and then went in the box to put a low curved shot past Emily Boyd.
The Cardinal’s third goal came off a controversial penalty in the 75th minute. Kelly Fitzgerald’s tackle, which was called a foul, looked clean, but the referee thought otherwise. Cal had been looking better in the later stages of the game as it made some forays into Stanford’s box. The third goal, however, killed off the game. The Cardinal added a fourth in the dying seconds to add further to Cal’s misery.
“Today we didn’t keep the ball well, and Stanford were able to break us down in almost any fashion they wanted,” McGuire said. “They deserved to win, we didn’t deserve to get anything from the game.”