“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
When legendary sportscaster Vin Scully uttered those immortal words, an injured Kirk Gibson and the Los Angeles Dodgers had just won game one of the 1988 World Series in walk-off fashion.
Last Friday, it was a team hailing from the “City of Angels” that lost with a touch of the impossible. The unranked Cal women’s soccer team scored at the death to secure a miracle 2-1 upset against No. 7 UCLA in Westwood.
For the Bears, this season could not have been more improbable. A Cal squad that lost 12 matches last year is already 9-1 after a Friday win that shocked the Pac-12.
The Bruins had kicked off Friday as overwhelming favorites to continue their recent dominance over the Bears. Cal had not won against UCLA since 2015, and the Bears’ last away win over the Bruins had been more than a decade ago in 2006.
Even as a corner kick clearance fell into the path of Cal’s Luca Deza in the sixth minute, chances of the Bears drawing first blood away from home still seemed unlikely.
Deza was unfazed by the odds — she hit a shot for the first time, a snappy effort that swerved past the outstretched glove of Bruin goalkeeper Teagan Micah and into the roof of the net. She had not scored for five games, but Deza’s important goal made the most incredible of wins seem within reach.
Smiles would fade quickly as UCLA came out from the restart with a vengeance. The Bruins created two chances in rapid succession before Cal team captain Emily Smith, one of the Pac-12’s premier defenders during the Bears’ eight-game winning streak, committed a foul in the penalty area and conceded a spot kick.
When Bruin junior Marley Canales stepped up and buried the penalty to equalize just four minutes after Deza’s goal, UCLA began to dictate play and string attacks together with alarming potency. The Bruins would continue to find space while preventing Cal from shooting for the remainder of the first half, but the Bears’ keeper Angelina Anderson refused to be beaten as she made three saves to keep Cal in the game.
On the other side of halftime, the UCLA offense picked up right where it left off — the Bruins would outshoot Cal 10-6 in hopes of finding the tiebreaker, while the Bears’ Abi Kim had a few opportunities against the run of play which were saved by Micah. After UCLA’s Anika Rodriguez was denied by the crossbar in the 77th minute, Cal mounted an offensive resurgence as Bruin legs began to tire.
It was Kim who scored the last-gasp goal in the 88th minute — her uncontested pace down the right wing beat her marker for the millionth time as she cut inside near the byline. Her low cross fizzed off her right boot — and the ball grew eyes on its way through the box, evading two sliding UCLA defenders.
Redshirt sophomore Kailee Gifford, a former high school football kicker, latched onto it. She needed no holder: Her first touch was an immaculately placed shot just inside the post.
When the final whistle blew, everyone in blue and gold erupted in euphoria. The Cal bench swarmed the field, mobbing Gifford and Kim until the entire team was piled high on the pitch. It was an improbable walk-off of their own — a match no one saw Cal winning ended in a joyous jumble of Bears celebrating on the Westwood turf.
Believe in the “impossible.”
Chanun Ong covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].