They knew it when they kicked off — the Bears were looking for magic.
After two upsets against UCLA and USC earlier in the season, the Bears found themselves across the bay hoping for one more on a chilly Friday night.
For Cal, the third time was not the charm — in fact, it was far from it. Perhaps the fatigue of the season had taken its toll on Bear legs, or that No. 2 Stanford had brought every bit of the best offensive unit in America out to play that day.
Regardless, the stars did not align last week for Cal. The Bears were spellbound by the free-scoring Cardinal, dropping their last match of the regular season 4-0.
Stanford outshot Cal by a whopping margin of 39 to 1, while forcing the Bears’ freshman keeper Angelina Anderson into a career-high 13 saves. She put in a tenacious effort between the posts, but with a Cardinal attempt flying towards goal seemingly every minute, it would have been absurd to expect a clean sheet.
In her debut season, Anderson had established herself as not only one of the best first-year keepers, but one of the best in the Pac-12 — even after conceding four to Stanford, she still leads the conference in save percentage.
Stanford fired the opening salvo by scoring with their first shot of the game. Barely one minute in, the reigning MAC Hermann player of the year Catarina Macario stepped up to take a free kick on the left wing from nearly 30 yards out. Macario lobbed a long ball into the penalty area that the Bears could not clear — Cardinal sophomore Naomi Girma struck a shot through a tangle of defenders, giving Anderson barely a chance to see it and no chance to stop it.
Ten minutes later, the Cardinal was back for more. Senior Beattie Goad, playing her last regular season game at Stanford, fizzed a pass down the wing to fellow soon-to-be graduate Carly Malatskey. A deft touch took her away from Cal’s Kailee Gifford for a brief moment, and a quick shot beat Anderson — uncharacteristically — at her near post.
Cal was unable to register a single shot on goal in the first 45 minutes — and the second half was played to a similar tune. In the 54th minute, it became clear the Bears could not stop the bleeding. Goad sent another dangerous pass out to the left wing, this time to sophomore Sophia Smith. She cut inside like a knife through warm butter, curling an unstoppable right-footed shot inside the far post.
The closest the Bears would get to a score was a Paige Metayer header in the 60th minute. After winning a header over Cardinal keeper Katie Meyer, the Stanford defense cleared the ball off the line to deny Cal’s only opportunity in the match.
No offensive opportunities meant that the Bears were forced onto the back foot throughout. In the 73rd minute, Cal top scorer Emma Westin — usually on the attack — was forced to control a long pass deep in the defensive third. Stanford’s Kiara Pickett closed in aggressively, picking off the ball and swinging in a far post cross. Cardinal junior Sam Tran headed the ball down into the bottom left corner, effectively ending a game that seemed over long before.
The regular season ends for Cal on a sour note, but the Bears have more to play for. On Monday, the Bears secured an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament — Cal’s first bid since its first-round loss to Santa Clara in 2017.
Cal will be facing a team that it knows all too well — the Bears have a shot at revenge from two years ago as they make the short drive to Santa Clara yet again. The Bears were underdogs in their non-conference match with the Broncos earlier this year, but after they won 2-1 back in September, Cal could go in as favorites to progress.
The first round of the College Cup will be held Nov. 15.
Chanun Ong covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].