Against all odds, Cal upsets Stanford for first time in 8 years

Image of soccer game, Cal Women's Soccer vs. Stanford
Stanford University/Courtesy

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Sometimes, statistics can be misleading — especially in a month such as March.

Leading up to this past weekend’s game against Cal, No. 20 Stanford flexed a home record of 28-0, with two of its last three victories coming on the turf of Cagan Stadium. After winning every matchup against their cross-bay rival since 2013, the Cardinal had reason to believe that this year wouldn’t be any different.

On Saturday, March 20, 2021, however, an unlikely result became an astonishing reality: Cal upset the reigning NCAA champions in a 1-0, 90-minute thriller.

Right out of the gates, Stanford forced its way into the driver’s seat. In 40 minutes, the home team totaled six corners and 11 shots, four of which were on target for goal. Forward Civana Kuhlmann amassed five chances early on, and midfielder Maya Doms came within inches of scoring after launching a left-footer that rattled off the underside of the crossbar.

Meanwhile, the Bears couldn’t break through the Cardinal defense with a single shot of their own, failing in multiple opportunities to score off setups such as a mid-air cross from midfielder Emma Westin in the second minute. Held to zero corners in the first half, Cal seemed all but intent on staying on the defensive for the first 45 minutes — that is, until three minutes before halftime.

In the Bears’ first shot attempt of the match, Cal midfielder Kailee Gifford set up forward Mia Fontana to finish a deep heave from far outside the penalty area. In the only score of the match, the ball bounced off the left side of the post and found its way past the outstretched arms of Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer. It was the first Cal goal against Stanford in more than four years.

“Emma got the ball and saw that I was open on the left,” Fontana said. “We really hadn’t tested Katie Meyer yet, so I decided to rip a shot. It was my first goal in two years due to my injury, and I seriously couldn’t be happier.”

Coming out of the halftime break, Stanford stayed aggressive past centerline, looking for at least one of many offensive openings to go its way. Adding on to 11 shots from the first 45 minutes of play, the Cardinal created 10 more goal attempts and seven more corners to mount further pressure onto Cal’s backline. But unlike a repeat of their collapse against Washington, the Bears’ defense stayed steady thanks to the efforts of midfielder Paige Metayer and defenders Emily Smith, Maya Evans and Abena Aidoo.

Led by sophomore goalkeeper Angelina Anderson, the team’s biggest star of the night, Cal managed to keep the opposition’s offense at bay. Out of Stanford’s nine total shots on goal, Anderson collected nine saves — a season-high for the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year.

Perhaps fittingly, Anderson saved the day for the blue and gold in the 88th minute after Kuhlmann had a chance to tie up the game with a penalty kick. When the Stanford forward aimed the shot low on the left side, Anderson was there to block it away, leaping to the far side of the goal to finish off a spectacular shutout performance in Palo Alto.

“This is a storied rivalry and Stanford is a first class team and program, so the win means a lot to our players, and program,” said head coach Neil McGuire in an email. “Our advice, outside of tactics, was to be courageous yet poised, and to trust each other.

On March 26, Cal will play Oregon at home in Berkeley for its second match against the Ducks this season. Despite its victory against Stanford not counting toward conference standings, Cal rises to an overall record of 4-2-0. After launching 17 fewer shots and 11 less corners than the Cardinal by the end of Saturday night, the Bears came out with a much-needed win, proving that numbers tell only half the story.

Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]