Bears’ awoken offense, underdog magic topple No. 4 USC

Sam Albillo/Staff

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“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

As the Friday sun tucked itself in behind the Edwards Stadium grandstand, the Bears did not go gentle into the October night.

No. 4 USC, armed with two of the Pac-12’s most prolific attackers in Tara McKeown and Penelope Hocking, entered the game with victory all but assured against an unranked Cal side that had been winless in its last four matches.

But at the end of it all, Cal won like it was meant to win.

The Bears threw themselves in front of shots and crosses. They strung plays together with a swagger befitting a national No. 4.

“We’re no joke,” said midfielder Luca Deza. “I think we’re a team that others easily underestimate, and we’re here to show them that Cal is really in it for the win this year.”

The Bears had only 1 shot to the Trojans’ 4 when Cal forward Abi Kim burst through on the right wing and looped a cross into the box. A touch from a defender sent it rolling into empty space, just to the right of the penalty spot.

In the long milliseconds that followed, the eyes of every player on the pitch were fixed on the loose ball — then, there was a flurry of movement as they all reacted at once. Kim moved in to support the play and USC keeper Anna Smith charged off her line — but a pouncing Deza was there first.

The Bears’ playmaker slid on the turf and swung herself feet-first at the ball, hitting a low shot past the outstretched gloves of Smith and into the bottom right corner.

“[Luca’s] worked really, really hard on her craft and she’s someone that studies the game,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “For her to get what would be the game-winner … I’m really happy for her.”

With the ever-present threat of McKeown and Hocking, the USC duo with 21 goals between them, Cal needed to keep their foot on the accelerator. Deza and the Bears were not satisfied with only 1 goal — they pushed to double their lead before the Trojans could counterpunch.

USC had made a change in goal at the half, bringing on the reigning Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year Kaylie Collins, but Cal found a way through nonetheless.

Mia Corbin was the unlikely catalyst — when she came on as a substitute in the 54th minute, everyone in Edwards Stadium expected the tall forward to try and win a header in the box. Fans watched in surprise, though, as she jogged down the line and prepared to swing in a corner kick.

Corbin’s corner delivery pinballed around the penalty area before sophomore Paige Metayer slotted in Cal’s second goal from close range.

Just like that, in defiance of all expectations, the Bears were well and truly out in front. The very molecules of Edwards Stadium were buzzing — the crowd was tense and ready to celebrate.

Cal keeper Angelina Anderson continued to protect the lead with gusto. She had sapped the life out of the fearsome Trojan attack from the start, making 2 saves in quick succession against McKeown and Hocking that prevented the visitors from striking first. Anderson came through again to smother another powerful shot from Hocking in the second half.

With nine minutes to go, Deza was dragged down at the edge of the box but was on her feet to take the ensuing free kick. With every home supporter holding their breath, she let loose a venomous drive that Collins was forced to parry into a dangerous area.

Enter Cal’s leading scorer Emma Westin, who was on hand to snap up the rebound and put the game away with aplomb. Collins barely had time to get up before the Swedish talisman blasted a shot into the top corner that nearly took the net off its frame. Already 3-0 up with time nearly gone, the Bears locked down possession until the whistle blew. It was the first time USC had been shut out all season.

“We had a little bit of a drought in terms of scoring and clearly, we just needed to get that out,” Deza said after the match. “We had a really great week of practice and I’m really happy that we were able to capitalize on all our chances.”

Cal upset then-No. 7 UCLA away from home last month and with a win on Friday, the Bears have beaten two of their strongest Pac-12 rivals. They seem to feed off of pressure, and every player wearing a Cal jersey knows that their scrappy group will always come out fighting.

“Any win in the Pac-12 is going to make you happy, obviously playing against a team that’s ranked so high,” McGuire said. “Our players were up for it and it feels great to get a great win at home in front of our fans.”

The Bears will be on the road this week, with matches on Thursday at 6 p.m. against Utah and on Sunday at noon against Colorado.

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