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Lead-up to conference play continues for Cal women's soccer

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SEPTEMBER 05, 2019

Only an exclusive handful of teams that have made the jump to the Premier League from England’s second tier have found success at the top flight. Pundits give newly promoted teams the slimmest of chances against established clubs — rightly so, as faster and more agile players turn defensive mistakes into goals with astonishing regularity. 

In 2015, league champions Leicester City adapted to their new and unforgiving environment as they secured a title just one year removed from promotion — but the Foxes will be an exception to the general rule. More often than not, a team with an extraordinary record in lower division play will find itself humbled when met with world-class opposition.

On paper, the Cal women’s soccer team is excellent. The Bears go into September sporting a pristine 3-0 record, nine total goals from four different scorers, and a watertight defense that’s kept a clean sheet every game this season.

Cal is riding a winning streak, coming off a successful Southern California road trip where they dispatched both UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State 2-0. This week, Cal will return home. When the Bears last played on friendly soil, they shut out Weber State 5-0 behind two long-distance strikes from midfielder Luca Deza.

Although the Bears have played well, they haven’t been fully tested. In the Pac-12, eight other teams remain undefeated through their first four games — a testament to the conference’s elite standard of play and Cal’s middle-of-the-pack statistics and record in comparison. Just like the Premier League, the Pac-12 has perennial contenders of its own in No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 USC.

For the Bears, those big three are the teams to beat — and even with such an optimistic start, Cal’s conference rivals could cause major problems for head coach Neil McGuire’s side. Could a Bear defense that was unquestionably effective against unranked Weber State, San Diego State and UC Santa Barbara hold their own against a free-scoring Cardinal strike force, with 17 goals in just four games thus far?

At this point, the Bears can’t know for sure. As favorites and underdogs are established in the young season, de facto No. 34 Santa Clara will be the best barometer of preparation for Cal before a matchup with No. 2 UCLA later this September. Before the Broncos visit Edwards Stadium, the Bears will face three more unranked teams — San Diego and Montana this weekend, and UC Irvine next Thursday.

The Toreros head north on the heels of a 2-1 overtime loss to Long Beach State, but on the better side of .500 after they won their early season games against Long Island University and Holy Cross. On the other hand, the Bears’ Pac-12 adversary Arizona delivered a 3-0 drubbing to San Diego in an exhibition win; Cal will hope to follow suit at home Friday at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are set to square off with the Bears on Sunday at 1 p.m. Montana comes to Cal winless, drawing against North Dakota and North Dakota State and dropping matches to Gonzaga and No. 17 Washington State, who the Bears will play in October.

Everything is looking up for Cal, from confidence in front of the goal to lockdown defensive efforts. The makings of a great squad are without a doubt present, but the strength of Cal’s opposition has made it difficult to accurately predict the season’s outcome.

When Leicester City won the Premier League four years ago, the Foxes had doubters even as match after match went their way. If something special is indeed happening for the Bears, it needs to come out in the coming weeks’ results — wins are what differentiate a truly successful team from a high potential one.

Chanun Ong covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

SEPTEMBER 05, 2019


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