On Friday, Cal took its fans’ breath away — this week, the Bears may be the ones stretched for air.
After a stunning 3-0 win over then-No.4 USC, the Bears will be tasked with two games at high altitudes against unranked Utah and Colorado. The Rocky Mountains road trip will test Cal’s unbeaten away record, while the Bears look to carry the revitalized attacking form that they showed Friday into the rest of their conference games.
Cal imposed itself on one of the nation’s best in USC and dominated throughout — their performance showcased a side that has the raw talent to aim for the Pac-12 title. The win was achieved through a sublime teamwide effort, spearheaded by midfield magician Luca Deza and preserved by keeper Angelina Anderson.
Anderson, one of the United States women’s national soccer team’s youth stars, was named the Top Drawer Soccer Player of the Week after keeping a clean sheet against a formidable USC offense — the first time the Trojans had been shut out all season. Both Deza and Anderson earned Pac-12 selections, but the Paige Metayer dribbles, Abi Kim breakaways and Emily Smith tackles were all essential to one of the biggest upsets of the year.
Both the Utes and the Buffaloes are trailing Cal in the Pac-12 title race, but the Bears should perhaps tell themselves that their next two opponents are ranked No. 1 and No. 2. Despite wins against UCLA and USC — both in the national top 10 when they faced the Bears — Cal has not prevailed in a single match against unranked Pac-12 opposition. Against Washington, Oregon and Oregon State, which were teams that many expected to be less of a challenge, the Bears have lost one game and drawn two.
On Thursday, fans can expect goals to be few and far between, as two of the Pac-12’s best defenses clash in Salt Lake City. Utah owns the fourth-best goals-against average in the Pac-12, allowing 0.92 per game, but the Utes’ 1-2-3 conference record has shown that teams have been able to solve the problems they pose. Cal, meanwhile, has allowed the fewest goals per game in the conference at 0.45 and sits at 10th-best in the entire nation.
After coming out of hibernation with an exclamation point against USC, it will be interesting to see how the Bears’ offense plans to break down the Utes’ resolute back line. All eyes will be on Deza to see if she can keep up her scoring output, while Kim, Metayer and Cal top-scorer Emma Westin will all be looming to snap up any chances that come their way.
Three days later, Cal will head eastward to Boulder to face Colorado on Sunday. The Buffs are only one point behind the Bears in the Pac-12 standings and have played to the tune of a 2-3-1 conference record. Senior midfielder Taylor Kornieck is tied for third in the Pac-12 in scoring with USC’s Penelope Hocking and will be marked closely by the Bears — the tall striker has nabbed nine goals on the year, but she will have her work cut out for her against Cal’s watertight defense.
Although Deza has been on fire as of late, her cross-supplier Kim could make a huge impact this weekend. USC was helpless to stop the winger’s blistering pace Friday, and if she gets up to speed quickly against Utah and Colorado, fans can expect the same result — more crosses, more goals and a whole lot of fun.
A continuation of Friday’s form should net two wins for the Bears this week, but they have come up short in similar situations before. Just like they did against USC, they will need to strike swiftly and mercilessly before their opponents can catch their breath.