Soccer players are at the mercy of time.
The winners wish the clock would run at double speed, while their opponents just step away, hoping the final whistle never comes.
This Cal season has seemingly been on fast-forward throughout — a historic streak of victories was followed by a rollercoaster of form in conference play.
Now, the Bears find themselves with only three matches remaining in the regular season. Cal will go into its final homestand of the year hoping to give the crowd at Edwards Stadium two more performances to remember.
“We’re really excited about it — I think our fans have done a wonderful job thus far supporting the team,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “We’ve got seniors, as well as some players that are going to graduate early, so we’re looking forward to celebrating them and playing two very strong opponents.”
Eight of the Bears will be departing Cal at the end of the season — seniors Abi Kim, Mia Corbin, Kayla Fong, Avery Lakeman and Maggie Bell along with early graduates Daisy Cleverley, Olivia Sekany and Jordyn Elliot. The outgoing seniors will have their last chances to shine in front of their home fans Thursday against Arizona and Sunday against Arizona State.
Everything the team has done this year will be put to the test in its last Pac-12 match, as Cal is scheduled to face No. 2 Stanford away from home. Still, the Bears are not getting ahead of themselves going into the penultimate week of the regular season — they are preparing for Thursday with clear heads and a grounded mindset.
“Our focus is one game at a time … we’re looking forward to the game against Arizona, which will be a tough matchup,” McGuire said. “We definitely feel confident.”
Arizona sits one place higher than Cal in the Pac-12 table, but the difference between the two is only one point — if the Bears secure a win, they will leapfrog the fifth-place Wildcats in the standings. Arizona ranks second in Pac-12 scoring with 34 goals, but that offense will come up against a Cal defense that conceded just nine goals on the year, good for second-best in the conference. Junior Jada Talley leads the Wildcats with nine goals, but sophomore Brooke Wilson and junior Jill Aguilera have also bagged six apiece.
The last time the Bears came out on top against Arizona was six years ago, when they beat the Wildcats 2-1 at home in 2013. Arizona is on a three-match unbeaten run, and given the importance of the match to the Pac-12 standings, Thursday could be a tense affair — Cal may need to absorb pressure and hit on the counter.
Arizona State is winless in conference play thus far, losing six games and drawing two. It would be an inglorious honor for the Bears to be the Sun Devils’ first win, and Cal does not plan to underestimate them. Expect the home 11 to come out firing early against an Arizona State squad whose 1.47 goals-against average is second-worst in the conference.
“Each of our last three opponents in conference provides different challenges,” McGuire explained. “Arizona play a different brand and a different style than Arizona State, and both of those teams play differently than Stanford.”
Cal will face Arizona on Thursday at 1 p.m. and Arizona State on Sunday at noon. After finishing second-to-last in the Pac-12 last year, the now sixth-place Bears will look to close out their resurgent season.
“We felt leaving spring that we had a team that was capable of doing good things as long as we were healthy and fit,” McGuire said. “The players are very motivated, they’re very together and I think the success that we’ve had is deserved based on the work that we’ve done throughout the last year.”
Chanun Ong covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].