Just two months ago, Cal alumna Alex Morgan sent the nation into delirium with an emphatic header that propelled the U.S. national team over England and into the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Morgan would go on to become the competition’s joint top scorer, tying Megan Rapinoe with six goals, as the United States dispatched the Dutch in France for its fourth World Cup win, the most by any country since the beginning of the women’s tournament in 1991.
About 5,800 miles away from the Stade de Lyon, where Morgan and the U.S. team lifted the trophy, the current class of Bears laces up its boots this season looking to craft some Morgan-esque moments of its own.
The Bears are coming off a 12-loss season that saw Cal slip from 26th to 42nd in the United Soccer Coaches preseason rankings and miss out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years. Head coach Neil McGuire’s squad will aim to pass by its speed bump and regain the stellar form it showed two years ago, when the Bears won 13 matches and finished fifth in the Pac-12.
For Cal, a rebound from last season’s doldrums won’t be a tap-in. With only two seniors graduating from the ranks during the summer, however, the Bears will have a chance to work with many familiar names, bolstered by a highly touted batch of recruits, to switch up and improve upon the tactics of last year.
Leading the line will be senior Abi Kim, an All-Pac-12 and All-Pacific Region striker from Washington who found the net six times last season, good for a team-best mark. She will be supplied by junior Emma Westin, whose four assists also led the Bears in 2018.
The 41 goals that Cal allowed over the course of last season was only surpassed in the Pac-12 by Oregon State’s 54 concessions, and the recruitment of freshman goalkeeper Angelina Anderson could serve to provide another confident presence behind the Bears’ back line.
The former first-team keeper and captain of the U.S. under-17 women’s team, Anderson was also named as a part of the U-20 side for the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup and is considered one of the world’s best keepers in her age group.
Anderson is just one of the eight prospects who constitute the eighth-best recruiting class in the nation, with the Bears also securing commitments from Lily Arbabaraghi, Ally Brecher, Mia Fontana, Natalie Hueston, Ella Collier, Kaylee Nguyen and Jadyn Shinn. All, including Anderson, are California products.
On Thursday, summer officially ends. The first touches of the ball in the 2019 season for McGuire’s Cal will take place at 4 p.m. at home against Weber State. The Wildcats finished first in the Big Sky Conference last season and will put the Bears’ offseason conditioning to the test as they try to spoil Cal’s home opener at Edwards Stadium.
The past few months in soccer have come with their share of storybook moments, but the conclusion of summer means a return to the challenges that the Bears have in front of them — developing their plethora of young talent for the long term and, through their performance, putting last season behind them.
Chanun Ong covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].