Just in case they were unsure, the student-athletes of Cal women’s soccer will be staunchly reminded of how tough of a conference they play in, as Pac-12 powerhouses No. 2 USC and No. 12 UCLA come to town this week.
“Both teams are very talented, having great seasons and will provide us with real challenges,” said head coach Neil McGuire. “They are both offensively very dangerous but defensively very well-organized.”
The one-two punch of SoCal rivals will be a stiff challenge for a Cal team that has been on the wrong side of too many close calls so far this season. In the conference opener against Arizona State, Cal managed to get on the board early but was shut out in the second half, unable to find an answer for a pair of ASU goals. Just a week before, the Bears faced a historically beatable opponent in UC Davis, but that match ended in a 1-1 draw.
The team’s losses haven’t been blowouts, but their wins haven’t been shutouts, and the result is a 4-4-1 record for a team predicted to finish fourth in the Pac-12. An upset win this week against USC or UCLA would put the Bears back on track in the conference and provide an invaluable confidence boost early in the Pac-12 season.
But it won’t come easy. The Trojans have performed nothing short of incredibly this fall, boasting an 8-0-1 record and outscoring opponents by an aggregate 26-3. Touting a roster that features not one but four U-20 National Team members, the USC offense is no joke.
As if that weren’t enough, the Trojans have notched six of their eight wins in shutout fashion, rounding out their abilities on both sides of the ball. Redshirt sophomore goalie Kaylie Collins, who grew up in the Bay Area, was named Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week early in the season and has continued to excel, making 15 saves in 9 starts.
UCLA, on the other hand, will come to town Sunday after a Thursday night matchup against the nation’s No. 1 team, Stanford. The Bruins opened their conference season with a loss against Washington State, another top Pac-12 opponent, but had won their previous three matches by a score of 3-0.
The Bruins bring an impressive degree of offensive depth to the match, with nine different players having found the back of the net this year. On defense, UCLA has held opponents to less than a goal on average per game.
All eyes will be on the Cal defense in both of these matches, which will have to perform at the highest level in order to match the offensive prowess of USC and UCLA.
“Our ability to possess the ball is going to be critical,” McGuire said. “Obviously our back line has to be very aware of their strikers and how aggressive they are in finding backspace and creating opportunities, so our focus this week has been about possession and then just our structural organization — once the ball is lost, how we handle it.”