Cal women’s soccer still perfect after Santa Clara thriller

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

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In chess, to sacrifice means to give up a piece in exchange for an advantageous position later in the game. A properly executed sacrifice can repel an incoming assault — or begin an offensive onslaught that will ultimately end in checkmate.

On the football pitch, a sacrifice happens when a striker tracks back to help defend or a defender pushes upfield, giving up position to interrupt an opposing attack or score an unlikely goal.

The Cal women’s soccer team has used this concept to outplay every opponent they’ve faced, conceding only one goal so far this season. The Bears are 7-0 after a 1-0 away shutout at UC Irvine last Friday and a tense 2-1 win at home on Sunday against Santa Clara.

“Oftentimes when you see shutouts … you think of your back line,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “The whole team has been working extremely hard.”

If soccer is a physical chess match, Cal forward Abi Kim is a rook on an open file. The pacey attacker’s play was instrumental in the Sunday upset of Santa Clara when her crossing and dribbling caused trouble for the Broncos until the final whistle. In the 33rd minute, she made a sacrifice of her own — sprinting back from the opposing third to cut out a dangerous through pass. The Bears’ top goal scorer last season has notched only one goal, but her three assists are good for second-most on the team.

“Hopefully I’ll get (goals) of my own but it’s always about how we win, not who necessarily scores,” Kim said. “I’m glad to be a part of it, either scoring or assisting.”

Kim’s biggest contribution came with less than a minute remaining in the first half. With both teams pushing for their first goal, she broke through on the wing and sent in a low cross that found this season’s top scorer: Emma Westin. Her well-placed shot snuck past the outstretched right leg of Bronco keeper Courtney Ogren, putting the Bears in the lead nine seconds before halftime.

The Bronco attack would not bear fruit until the second half when freshman Izzy D’Aquila powered in a header from a corner kick in the 62nd minute. After the restart, both teams traded chances at goal — Cal’s Luca Deza sent a free kick high and wide, while a shot from Santa Clara’s Kelcie Hedge was smothered by the Bears’ keeper Angelina Anderson.

In the 78th minute, Westin took on an ambitious shot from a tight angle in the box. A strong hand from Ogren parried the shot away, but the ball looped over to freshman forward Natalie Hueston. With the goalkeeper stranded, Hueston deftly took a touch around a defender and tapped in for her first Cal goal, sending Edwards Stadium into delirium.

The Bears’ excitement was nearly short-lived as the Broncos responded with a quick break that culminated in a cross towards D’Aquila. A heroic reaction save from Anderson, who dove to her left to deny another strong header, preserved a Cal lead that would not be relinquished.

“We have great respect for Coach Smith and his program — they’re a tremendous team,” Cal head coach McGuire said. “We’re very happy with a win obviously, but credit to both programs for putting on a great showcase for the fans.”

Getting a result against a Bronco squad ranked just outside the top 25 is a good omen for Pac-12 play. Before the Bears’ conference opener at No. 5 UCLA, they will play two more home matches — one against UC Riverside this Friday at 2 p.m. and Portland on Sunday at noon.

“We’re 7-0,” Kim said. “I think people have underestimated us, and this is a sign of where we’re headed and how far we can go.”

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