This Friday, Cal women’s soccer is set to make its presence known for the Portland Pilots’ home opener. The Bears kick off against the Pilots without home-field advantage and are hoping to improve upon their performance from two seasons ago — a matchup which resulted in a devastating 2-0 loss to Portland.
The blue and gold grace the field with fairly high expectations and positive attitudes during their stint on the road. Such an outlook from the onset may have to do with the fact that despite losing against Portland in 2019, the Pilots have not had a stellar record. Currently, the Bears rank No. 4 in their conference, while the Pilots sit at No. 7. Notwithstanding the higher ranking, Cal has an additional advantage: The Bears’ assistant coach Cori Alexander was a former starter for Portland, leading the team to a national championship in 2005.
The Pilots are a fairly young squad, with only five returning players. They lost their season opener 3-1 to the Utah Utes, then bounced back with a 1-0 victory against the Montana Grizzlies. However, the game was balanced at best, and the Grizzlies steadily increased possession as the match continued. Meanwhile, Cal showed its prowess by tying with national NCAA champions Santa Clara last Sunday — a game that was fairly equal in possession and saw both teams moving in unison on the pitch.
Cal is expected to come off of the field with a win against the Pilots, as it boasts the No.1 recruiting class in the nation as well as the Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week, junior Makena Smith. Smith joined the team Friday as a backup keeper. Her first time suiting up, she recorded seven saves, including a keeper’s version of a hat-trick: a stunning over-the-bar touch that kept the blue and gold tied with the Santa Clara Broncos. While she played soccer in high school, Smith had not stepped on the pitch since. She has spent most of her time as a Cal athlete as a catcher for the Bears’ softball team.
“We’ve known for a long time that (Smith) is a talented dual athlete. It clearly translated in this game today,” said head coach Neil McGuire, “She played for a club team that we know well and respect. We had no fear of putting her in the goal.”
While friendly scrimmage has offered new recruits a taste of the soccer experience, it will be exciting to witness which of the new players will start during the action-packed games. New players are certainly ones to watch as Cal’s coaching staff typically substitutes fresh faces into games with little to no warning.
“I think it’s good for young players to get this type of competitive game in early because then they’ll understand what it takes for the next match,” McGuire said.
Beyond the freshmen, Cal’s roster does not fall short of talent. The team’s returning class, including junior goalkeeper Angelina Anderson, redshirt senior midfielder Emma Westin and sophomore forwards Amaya and Anysa Gray should provide a solid foundation far beyond this weekend.
The Bears will step on Portland’s home pitch at 4 p.m. and are prepared to leave their mark. Because the blue and gold are looking to rally its fans, it will be interesting to take in the attitude of the team post-Santa Clara. However, the question remains: Will they meet expectations and rise to the challenge, or will they fall? Either way, the tension on the turf is expected to be palpable.
Maria Khan covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].