With five games under its belt, the Cal women’s soccer team’s season can best be described in one word: tumultuous. Heading into their next slate of matches, the Bears are ready to rebound against UCI on Thursday, Sept. 16 and Long Beach State on Sunday, Sept. 19.
On Thursday, UCI will enter the Bears’ home turf of Edwards Stadium with an overall record of 4-3. Before their most recent 2-1 loss to Oregon State on Sept. 9, the Anteaters boasted an impressive three-game winning streak. Nevertheless, Cal should be the favorite in this match, as UCI has yet to win a game against a Pac-12 opponent this season.
“Like any competitive program, we go in with the expectation of winning,” said Cal head coach Neil McGuire. “Knowing that it’s very hard to win college matches, we go in with a mindset that we want to come out victorious.”
On Sunday, the Bears will take a 400-mile Southern California road trip to face Long Beach State at George Allen Field. Similar to Cal, LBSU’s record is currently a mixed bag at 3-2-1, with its most notable victory coming against then-No. 8 Pepperdine on Aug. 26.
But, like Cal’s upcoming duel with UCI, the blue and gold have little reason to fret. Currently, the Bears are outscoring all of their opponents 8-2 and outshooting them 83-46. In addition, the team from Berkeley leads its all-time series against the Beach, 5-0-0. Thus, Cal’s biggest challenge comes not from its opponents on the field, but rather from something entirely different.
Over the past week, the Bears have dealt with numerous positive COVID-19 cases within their program as well as subsequent game cancellations against both Sacramento State and Santa Clara. However, this isn’t the first time this year that the Bears have had to overcome virus-related obstacles.
Before its first scheduled game against Santa Clara on Aug. 22, Cal was forced to shift its lineups after an unidentified player tested positive for COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play the Santa Clara game,” said sophomore forward Anysa Gray. “It was 20 minutes before, and someone on our team had gotten COVID.”
Consequently, Cal is currently two games behind many of its Pac-12 counterparts. Because of its lack of playing time, the team has a long road ahead before solidifying itself as one of the conference’s best. When Cal has been able to play its games as regularly scheduled, though, the results have been mixed — three total wins and two overtime ties only scratch the surface of this year’s squad’s capabilities.
“We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to recruit so many good players,” McGuire said. “The freshman class is very talented, but, also, the returning group is extremely talented. The matching of those two groups has been very important.”
Standout players thus far represent every spectrum of the blue and gold roster. As parts of the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, freshman midfielder Marleen Rohde and freshmen forwards Karlie Lema and Ari Manrique have already taken great strides in establishing their presence on the pitch. Lema, a Bay Area local from Mountain View Los Altos Soccer Club, currently leads the team’s offense with two total goals scored. Meanwhile, Manrique and Rohde lead Cal in total shots taken, with more than 10 apiece.
As mentors to the aforementioned players, Cal’s veterans are also holding their own. Senior midfielder Paige Metayer is tied with senior defender Sydney Collins for the most time spent playing on the field; junior attacking midfielder Keely Roy champions eight total shots; and junior goalkeeper Angelina Anderson owns the second-best save percentage in the Pac-12 at 0.900.
Should the Bears win their next two games, expect the team to jump precipitously in national and conference rankings. Near the start of its season, Cal was ranked No. 20 shortly after shutting out Portland, 2-0, on Aug. 27. Because of their recent game cancellations, the Bears are eager to rebound accordingly — after all, there’s nowhere to go but up from such a tumultuous start to the season.
Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].