Cal women’s soccer (5-11-2) has not had the tangible success it envisioned at the inception of the 2018 season, but now, the Bears face an opportunity to finish the regular season on a high note against a familiar foe — No. 1 Stanford (15-0-2).
The Bears, who have struggled to defend home turf all season, will host the Cardinal in a Friday afternoon game at Edwards Stadium. Cal holds a 3-6-1 record at home but has been unable to secure a win in Berkeley in its last seven matches.
Many of the Bears’ poor results, however, have occurred not because of an inability to create offensive chances or a lack of tactical awareness, but often because of bad luck. All season, the Bears struggled to put the final ball into the back of the net, and on more than one occasion, Cal has had what would have been clutch goals turned away by either the crossbar or an opposing keeper.
Leading the Bears’ attack this season, junior Abi Kim and sophomore Emma Westin have totaled six and four goals apiece, respectively. Westin has contributed four assists on the year as well.
As encouraging as this may seem, it will be difficult to generate the good kind of luck against this Cardinal team. The defending NCAA champions are arguably better this season than last, in which Stanford won its second title in program history and made its fourth championship appearance in nine years.
The Cardinal have remained atop the Division I rankings all season, currently claiming the nation’s only undefeated record in 2018, and have not suffered a loss since August 2017.
Stanford has only given up more than one goal in a game once this year, in a 3-2 victory against No. 16 UCLA, and the team allows an average of just 0.452 goals per match, making the Stanford defense one of the 10 best in the country.
The Cardinal are among the best in the nation offensively as well, scoring 2.65 goals per game. Just two weeks ago, they exploded offensively at home to defeat previously unbeaten then-No. 15 Colorado by a 7-0 margin.
Muck like its defense acumen, Stanford’s offensive prowess is mostly a result of tactical execution throughout the squad, as a total of 16 players have scored for the Cardinal this season.
That said, sophomore forward Catarina Macario is by far the biggest offensive threat in the Cardinal lineup. Macario earned a collection of accolades in her freshman campaign, including 2017 espnW Player of the Year, Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and the All-America First Team. This year, Macario leads Stanford in goals scored by a considerable margin, putting in 12 on the season.
Cal’s season has not lived up to the standard set in the past, but the Bears have a chance to play spoiler against their fiercest rival. To do so, Cal needs to lock down defensively against one of the nation’s most tactically sound teams and find some magical moments in the final third.
A win Friday afternoon would be a sweet end to a largely bitter season.
Max Mennemeier covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].