As one of the nation’s best, the No. 10 Cal women’s soccer team was supposed to stretch out its winning streak for longer than just two games. But the concept of “supposed to” isn’t necessarily one that always holds weight in sports.
After firing off seven more shots, one more shot on goal and six more corners than Colorado, Cal’s performance Friday was near perfect. Yet it wasn’t quite enough to snag a third-straight victory.
“As a team, disappointment on Friday was just not being able to finish,” said Keely Roy, a sophomore striker and transfer from USF. “It was almost more disappointing when you know you’re almost the better team in holding more possession and having more chances.”
The first half of the Bears’ home debut against the Buffaloes saw both teams struggling to break an even deadlock. With 20 minutes off the clock, each team had at least four opportunities to score, with Cal’s winger Lily Arbabaraghi and Roy taking two shots apiece.
Meanwhile, Colorado involved five different players in its early offensive effort, including one shot each by Hannah Sharts, Jenny Beyer, Shanade Hopcroft, Shyra James and Sofia Weiner. With two minutes left to play in the first period, the Buffaloes’ strategy to diversify their scoring options paid off as Sharts connected off of a corner assist from Jade Babcock-Chi — a momentum-shifting goal that instantly brought Colorado’s bench on to its feet.
After a pep talk at halftime by head coach Neil McGuire, Cal came out swinging to pin Colorado on the defensive. Over the next 28 minutes, the Bears shot eight times, doubling their total shots taken, while the Buffaloes mustered just three. Fortunately for Colorado, however, goalkeeper Dani Hansen kept the blue and gold at bay, tallying three more saves on the day to up her season total to 42, good for the top spot among Pac-12 goalies.
But Cal’s rejuvenating offensive aggression cost the team in defensive gaps. In their third shot of the half, in the 73rd minute, the Buffaloes extended their lead to 2-0 as midfielder Hopcroft converted a breakaway goal. The Bears responded efficiently with a cross-aerial goal taken from afar by defender Sydney Collins — the first of her collegiate career. Yet time ticked away and the blue and gold’s push appeared too little too late. Coming at the hands of Colorado, Cal’s first loss of the season concluded with a final scoreline of 2-1 last Friday.
For Sunday’s game against Utah, the Bears started three new forwards into their 4-3-3 formation: Natalie Hueston, Abby Borchers and Amaya Gray. In the first half, Cal managed to set up 10 different shot opportunities to Utah’s five, with the payoff being Roy’s first-ever goal as a Bear. In the 38th minute, she slotted the ball into the left corner after a give-and-go assist from center attack midfielder Emma Westin, giving the blue and gold a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
“We worked on that combination play so much at practice,” Roy said. “(Westin) is an amazing player and sees the game so well. We gave a lot of small give-and-gos during practice, so it was great to see it come to life in a game.”
Thereafter, Cal fortified its defense, with defenders Maya Evans, Kailee Gifford and Collins staying back. Wary of the Utes’ desperate push past the halfway line, the Bears pressed accordingly throughout the second half — they won tackles, doubled their opponents’ forwards and maintained possession on the pitch.
“Our backline was so organized and did an amazing job of getting the ball out,” Roy said. “Being so composed under so much stress, winning second balls as the ball comes off the crossbar.”
To the visitors’ credit, Utah kept the game competitive. In the 89th minute, Utes forward Taliana Kaufusi’s shot rifled off the crossbar — arguably the closest call for the blue and gold the entire afternoon. By the end of the match, Utah had caught up and matched Cal’s 13-shot count, five of which were on target but saved by Angelina Anderson, the Bears’ star goalkeeper.
Holding on for a 1-0 shutout win over the Utes, the blue and gold now stand at 3-1-0 overall, boasting one of the better records in the conference. Cal’s next matchup will be held Friday night in Pullman, Washington — home to Washington State (4-0-1).
Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].