How hard is it to score a goal?
Short answer? Pretty hard.
The slightest gust of wind, the angle of a shot off the crossbar, or even the cut of the grass could determine whether a ball reaches the promised land: the back of the net. This uncertainty lends a special magic to the game and explains how a team that looks unbeatable can be toppled the next time it takes the field.
On Friday, Cal kept its seventh clean sheet in a 2-0 win against UC Riverside. On Sunday, the tables were turned: Portland snapped the Bears’ eight-game winning streak and handed Cal a 2-0 defeat of its own.
The Bears were in the driver’s seat for the entirety of their match against Riverside. Cal’s breakthrough came in scrappy fashion, as the Bears’ forward Mia Corbin found space out on the wing. Corbin fizzed in a cross that “assisted” an unlikely target — a Highlander defender that cleared the ball into her own net 17 minutes into the contest.
The Bears strung together an attack as soon as the second half started, winning a free kick in the 46th minute that was swung in by Luca Deza. Defender Emily Smith, one of last week’s Pac-12 Players of the Week, was free at the back post and powered a header in off the turf for Cal’s second goal. The goal was the Cal captain’s first in her college career and put the game out of reach for Riverside, as Smith and the rest of the Bears’ defense would hold the Highlanders in check for the rest of the match.
Last Friday marked Cal head coach Neil McGuire’s 150th program win. McGuire holds the Cal women’s soccer program’s all-time wins record and is currently serving his 13th term at the helm.
McGuire will have to wait until next Friday for a shot at number 151, as Cal suffered a surprising 2-0 loss Sunday against Portland. The Bears were shut out for the first time this year in their final nonconference match.
“We must credit Portland,” McGuire said after the match. “They came in with a great game plan, they were very organized, and I think they took the emotion out of the game.”
There was a frightening moment in the 42nd minute as Cal’s Natalie Hueston got the worst of a head-on collision with the Pilots’ Natalie Muth. Hueston was able to walk off the field by her own power, but she would later be examined by trainers and did not return to the match.
The Pilots took advantage of the Bears’ offensive and defensive mistakes with clinical efficiency. In the 57th minute, Portland’s Taryn Ries beat her mark on the left wing and delivered a cross on a platter for the unmarked Jamie Rita, who deposited a header into the net before freshman goalkeeper Angelina Anderson had a chance to set herself.
From then on, the Bears would push for an equalizer, but it was not the same Cal offense that had knocked in 18 goals in eight prior matches. First touches were a tad too heavy, passes were slightly undercooked or overhit, and Portland’s defenders seemed to always be in the right place. Cal has proven its attacking capabilities before, and Sunday was a blip in an otherwise stellar offensive season thus far.
“We wish that we would create more opportunities that were legitimate goal scoring chances,” McGuire said. “We’ll take a look at game film, and we’ll try and improve.”
As the Bears threw everything they had at the resolute Pilots’ defense, a back pass was picked off by Portland’s Rachel Khaw in the 80th minute. One-on-one with Anderson, Khaw dragged her shot through the Cal keeper’s legs only for it to carom off the far post. A fortunate rebound fell right back into Khaw’s path, who slotted the ball into an empty net to double the Pilots’ lead.
Cal forwards Abi Kim and Emma Treasure had two clear looks as the clock wound down, but both shots were handled by Portland keeper Jenny Wahlen. When the final whistle blew, Cal players had their hands on their knees in disappointment. The streak may be over, but a chance at a successful season is far from missed.
“When we started the season, if we (knew we) were going to be 8-1 at the end of nonconference we would be very pleased,” McGuire said. “We’re pretty happy with our overall success — we just have to tidy up some details.”
Cal’s next game will undoubtedly be its toughest, as the Bears head south to face No. 5 UCLA away from home Friday at 7 p.m.
“UCLA, like any Pac-12 team, is exceptionally talented. We’re going to have to prepare well,” McGuire said. “Our players will be ready for that game.”
Chanun Ong covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].