After a two-game sweep in the Beaver state, the No. 6 Cal is off to a red-hot start. In a flash, the team moved up eight spots in the national rankings — from 14th to 6th place over the span of a weekend.
“To come out in our first two opening games and get two wins is super exciting,” said the Bears’ tri-captain forward Emma Westin. “It gives us a lot of confidence going into these next two games.”
Next up for Cal is Colorado and Utah on Friday and Sunday, respectively. Both matches will be held at Witter Rugby Field in Berkeley and kick off at 3 p.m. PST.
For its first home game of the season against Colorado, Cal will likely set an aggressive tone right from the onset. The last time the team played the Buffaloes, an extra time thriller back in October 2019, the game finished in a 1-1 stalemate after about two hours of play.
To avoid another tiring extra time game, the Bears will have to create a well-balanced offensive scheme that relies on a diverse set of scoring options. Perhaps in similar fashion to the season debut, fans should expect midfielder Paige Metayer and forwards Westin and Anysa Gray to press high up the pitch fast and early — although against a team such as Colorado, that’s easier said than done.
Five games into their season, the Buffaloes already boast four clean sheets, in large part due to their starting sophomore goalkeeper, Dani Hansen. The new transfer out of Washington has racked up 32 total saves — the most in the conference — with 20 of them coming in two games against her former school. Hannah Sharts is also having a phenomenal year so far, having been named the Pac-12’s most recent Defensive Player of the Week. Together, they’re capable of containing any offense that’s thrown at them, which makes Colorado a defensive force to be reckoned with.
Utah, on the other hand, has given up the most goals in the conference at nine total goals allowed. To try and make up for poor defending, the team has fired off 67 shots — the fourth most in the Pac-12 — converting only four of them. After losing eight seniors from last season, including their previous starting goalkeeper Carly Nelson, the Utes will be hunting for their first conference win in two upcoming Bay Area matchups against No. 19 Stanford and Cal.
For Sunday’s showdown against the Utes, the Bears will likely find it advantageous to run their offense through counterattacks, which starts by fortifying their backline. So far, the blue and gold have defended well consistently, with left-back Abena Aidoo, center-back Sydney Collins and right-back Kailee Gifford all starting in both matches so far. But in the few instances in which the Bears allowed shots to be taken, goalkeeper Angelina Anderson cleaned up accordingly, with an impressive average save percentage of 85.7%.
“We know that both Utah and Colorado are really good teams. We know that Colorado is good in the air, so that’s something that we’re looking out for.” Westin said. “But in general, we try to focus on our own game. If we do our best and perform at our highest level, then we’re going to have a good chance of winning.”
Should the Bears come out victorious in their next slate of matchups, they’ll cement themselves as one of the best teams in the Pac-12. If not, they may fall in rankings as quickly as they rose — in a flash.
Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].