To “keep your eyes on the prize” is to maintain composure, resiliency, and — perhaps most importantly — focus. To do so for 90 consecutive minutes is easier said than done.
On Friday, the Cal women’s soccer team took the old adage to heart. Despite being held scoreless for more than 83 minutes of action, the No. 20 nationally ranked team shut out the Portland Pilots, 2-0, at Clive Charles Soccer Complex.
“What our team really focuses on is overcoming adversity. Because one of our advisors, his name is Graig Chow, he really helps our team focus. … We have these team values, one of which is resilience,” said sophomore forward Anysa Gray. “Sometimes it’s going to be challenging if we keep shooting and we don’t score. … It really matters how we, as a team, respond to that. … It’s about ‘controlling the controllables.’ ”
For the first 45 minutes, the blue and gold took nothing for granted. To get the ball rolling, Cal freshman Marleen Rohde started as a central attacking midfielder and fired off two shots in less than three minutes. Thereafter, more Bears followed suit: one shot from midfielder Paige Metayer led to two by forward Keely Roy and two more by midfielders Noelle Bond-Flasza and Kaylee Nguyen.
“I knew it was still 0-0, like we hadn’t won the game yet and I felt like even though we had a lot of possession throughout the game, and like we kept the ball above. … We knew we just had to put it away,” Gray said. “As a forward, I feel like that’s my job.”
On the other hand, the home team struggled to match its visitors’ offensive vitality. Totaling just four shots to Cal’s nine in the first half, Portland’s charges were quickly stifled by the likes of Cal defenders and seniors Emily Smith, Sydney Collins and Abena Aidoo.
But in the 40th minute, the Pilots had a golden opportunity. After a foul was called on Smith inside the penalty area, Portland’s freshman forward Cally Togiai was awarded a rare penalty kick.
From 12 yards out, Togiai drilled the ball towards the middle, and junior goalkeeper Angelina Anderson was there to collect a routine save — her fifth in the season at the time. Although Anderson has been dealing with a minor injury, which explains her absence from Cal’s game against Santa Clara on Aug. 22, she is expected to remain in the team’s starting goalkeeper position for more games to come.
Coming out of the halftime break, the Bears remained steady in their approach to the game. Shot after shot, Cal nearly doubled its scoring attempts in the next 45 minutes, but to little or no avail. Meanwhile, Portland tallied six attempts of its own, one of which was on target.
“They’re a very good team with their counterattack,” Gray said. “We want to go forward or vertical, but sometimes it’s not always on. So we really had to practice being poised, which means like not trying to force anything, and holding the ball, and not rushing.”
By the 83rd minute, though, the Pilots’ defense reached a breaking point. After an attempted shot by the Bears’ sophomore midfielder Rilee Harmon, the ball ricocheted off Portland defender Sophia Mattice and onto the foot of Gray. As Gray maintained control, she booted a shot off her left foot while off balance and successfully slotted it into the right corner, giving the Bears a 1-0 lead.
In her freshman year, Gray was forced to sit out most of the season due to a concussion. Given that the game was only her third overall match with Cal, the tie-breaking goal was more than just another stat. It was about redemption.
“Last year, I was only able to play in two games. In the University of Oregon game, I got kicked in my temple, and I had a really bad concussion,” Gray said. “So this Portland game was very important to me because that was my second full game ever, and it was also in Oregon. So I was a little bit anxious before the game. … But I did some meditation and just let it go.”
To add insult to injury, Cal then scored another goal six minutes after its first. Off a counterattack opportunity, freshman forward Karlie Lema broke free from defender Camille Ash and sent the ball flying past goalkeeper Jenny Wahlen to bring the Bears up, 2-0. It was Lema’s first goal with the team to mark Cal’s second overall victory — another triumphant tally in the win column for the nationally ranked Bears.
Ryan Chien is the deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].