To an onlooker, the effortless is breathtaking. It comes in many forms — a graceful swing that moves a baseball 400 feet or the smooth arc of a basketball on its way home from 3-point territory. The effortless and those capable of it are associated with otherworldly talent, while those that fight on with grit and determination are considered mortal and fallible.
For the first eight games of the season, the Cal women’s soccer team seemed like it could not put a single foot wrong. The Bears ran circles around their opponents, as they cruised to an 8-0 record and their second-best start in program history.
Match after match, Cal dominated possession, found killer passes with ease and imposed itself on the opposition with a defense that was one of the best in the Pac-12. The Bears were not effortless — the high pressing of every player on the pitch demonstrated the team’s high work rate — but when Cal was on the ball, it made the game seem far, far easier.
Since then, the Bears have struggled for every goal and every point — an upset win over UCLA has been Cal’s only victory in its past six matches. Two double-overtime draws against Oregon and Oregon State last week have spelled the definite end of the Bears’ sizzling start, as Cal has gone a modest 1-2-2 in conference play.
After a tightly contested homestand that saw the Bears drop back-to-back games against Washington and Washington State, they will be relieved to see the beginnings of a potential losing streak go by the wayside. On Thursday, Cal was in danger of falling short for a third consecutive match after one of Oregon’s leading scorers, Zoe Hasenauer, snuck a shot inside the post in the 34th minute.
After being beaten once, the Bears’ freshman keeper Angelina Anderson would not let the Ducks through a second time, as she recorded a career-high of seven saves in the game.
Anderson’s presence in goal prevented the Ducks from pulling away, and the Bears would make good on her efforts with an equalizer in the 88th minute. The tireless Swedish midfielder Emma Westin picked out senior forward Mia Corbin in the box, who let the ball fly at the goal with her left boot.
Corbin’s shot was too powerful for Oregon keeper Katelyn Carter, who got a touch on the ball but could not prevent it from finding the net and forcing overtime. The goal was Corbin’s first of the season, and it could not have come at a better time for Cal.
In the first extra period, Anderson would make another brilliant save to preserve the deadlock — neither team would find its offensive footing, and the match ended at 1-1.
The Bears may come away wishing they had done more against an Oregon team tied for last in the Pac-12, but they would be right back in action three days later against Oregon State. Despite their lackluster record against the Bears in the past, the Beavers were on the front foot in the numbers department — they outshot the Bears 22-11 and prevented Cal from winning a single corner kick.
As the clock wound down with both teams goalless, Cal was able to weather an Oregon State onslaught, as Anderson saved three shots in the last 10 minutes of the match. Westin popped up again in the 18th minute of extra time, but her shot was saved by the Beavers’ keeper Bridgette Skiba.
The Bears needed heroics out of both attackers and defenders to escape Oregon with draws instead of losses, and that may not bode well as they return home for a date with No. 5 USC on Friday.
Still, it would be unwise to count Cal out. The Bears were able to steal a win against then-No. 7 UCLA earlier in the season and should be ready to hold their own against the Trojans this week.
After a historic start to the season, the Bears are looking increasingly mortal and fallible, but it will be hard-earned success, rather than the effortless, that could take fans’ breath away Friday.
Chanun Ong covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].