Cal’s biggest match thus far sees Bears host No. 4 USC

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Does history really repeat itself? It depends on who you ask. Ask a statistician, and they would talk about the convergence of factors required for an unlikely recurrence. Ask Napoleon, and you know what answer you’d get.

Ask Neil McGuire, the head coach of the Cal women’s soccer team, and you would probably hear “I hope so.” After the Bears upset then-No. 7 UCLA 2-1 earlier this season, Cal has rightfully gone into every match with a winning mentality. Three weeks ago, an 88th minute Abi Kim goal in Westwood silenced the home crowd — but more importantly, it showed that this group of Bears at their best can take down the top of the Pac-12.

“The UCLA win was well deserved and allows us to go into every game believing we can win,” McGuire said. “The Pac-12 is loaded with talented teams, so we have to be ready for them all.”

Cal’s mindset hasn’t quite translated into results as of late — it lost two matches and has drawn the other two since its triumph over heavily favored UCLA. In September, the Bears made the trip to Los Angeles after a surprise 2-0 loss to Portland sent them crashing out of the top 25. Now, Cal looks to rebound from a lackluster four-game stretch, but like in September, it will have to turn things around against one of the nation’s best Friday.

No. 4 USC is, in every sense of the phrase, one of the juggernauts of the Pac-12 and the entirety of Division I soccer. The Trojans are tied for second in conference scoring with 30 goals in 13 games, led by Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week Tara McKeown. McKeown and fellow attacker Penelope Hocking are the second- and fourth-leading scorers in the conference, respectively — they have been the two-headed monster at the front of the Trojan ranks with 21 combined goals.

USC’s two leading scorers have been nearly unstoppable as of late, and the Bears will need to do what no other side has done this season — keep them away from goal. The Trojans have played only one match where McKeown or Hocking failed to score, and as a team, USC has not been shut out by any opponent.

The Trojans have been serial winners thus far, with their sole loss coming in a 3-2 nail-biter against No. 2 Stanford. Otherwise, USC has been almost impeccable — it owns an 11-1-1 record (4-1-0 in conference play) and sits right behind the first-place Cardinal in the Pac-12 title race.

If the Bears are to hold the Trojans’ free-scoring forwards in check, they will need help from their own Pac-12 Player of the Week, freshman keeper Angelina Anderson. The 6-foot stopper has both figuratively and literally saved Cal from multiple defeats and preserved wins for the Bears during her debut season at the college level.

“Angie has performed exceptionally well this season, and we are proud of her,” McGuire said. “She would be the first to acknowledge the great work her teammates are doing in front of her and wants to do her part to help the team.”

Cal captain Emily Smith and the rest of the Bears’ back line will do their best to take pressure off of Anderson, but handling a USC offense that has bypassed its share of defenders means that shots will inevitably sneak by.

After making a career-high seven saves against Oregon State on Sunday, it is almost certain that Anderson will need to top her performance for the Bears to prevail Friday. She has more than proven her capability with a number of top-quality stops in prior games — Anderson will be out to frustrate USC strikers while keeping the Bears in range of a win. All that Cal needs is a chance, and it has made chances count before.

If the win against the Bruins was reminiscent of David and Goliath, an upset of the No. 4 Trojans would shock college soccer.

The Bears will take on the role of David once more Friday 4 p.m. at Edwards Stadium.

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