“Know your enemy” might not be a common adage in the world of sports, but it’s relevant to the Bears as they gear up for a string of 11 straight Pac-12 games, with the first three on their home pitch. Compared to nonconference opponents, which vary by year, the Pac-12 gauntlet appears on the blue and gold’s docket annually. Such consistency in their schedule allows the Bears to accumulate knowledge of interconference opponents.
Cal plays the first game of its Pac-12 schedule against Colorado (6-3-0) on Sept. 25. The Bears will look to avenge a 2-1 defeat they suffered at the hooves of the Buffaloes on March 5, in which Colorado scored on two of three shots and snuck away with the victory.
Cal will need to do a better job limiting Colorado’s efficiency, something the Bears have done effectively this season. Through seven games, opponents have a shot on goal efficiency of 37% (20-54). Cal has also attempted more shots on goal than its opponents in six games, with only Santa Clara playing a more efficient game.
The key to Cal’s victory might also lie in something else entirely — its ability to adapt and display new tactical strategies. This was evident in the Bears’ win against Long BeachIsland State, after which senior midfielder Paige Metayer highlighted the benefits of their new 4-2-4 formation.
“(The formation) is rare, but it turns into a lot of different formations as we play it,” Metayer said. “We started with four forwards, which was very interesting and something that we have yet to do since I’ve been a player here.”
The Bears’ ability to experiment with different strategies is undoubtedly why the program boasts a 4-1-2 record this season. One thing that has not changed, however, is their stout defense. Cal’s defense has yet to allow multiple goals in a game this season, and the team has recorded a shutout in each of their wins.
The defense was especially effective during the Bears’ previous two games against Irvine and Long Beach. While the Bears eventually lost in overtime against Irvine, they can take solace in the fact that they allowed zero shots in regulation. And in the win against Long Beach, the blue and gold allowed only 4 shots, none of them on target.
As the match against Colorado approaches, fans will be waiting with bated breath for a battle between the two teams’ young leading scorers: Cal’s freshman Karlie Lema and Colorado’s sophomore Shyra James. Both players have scored three goals each for their clubs and sport efficient shot-on-goal percentages — 0.500 for Lema and 0.462 for James. For the Bears as a whole, advantages on offense might help spur a victory. Cal has history on its side, as in the 2020 season, its season high in corner kicks (8) came against Colorado.
Currently, the Bears sit at No.8 in the Pac-12 standings, so they will need any help they can get, including a sense of comfort provided from playing on their home field. If the non conference games are any indication, though, Edwards Stadium should see a good turnout for its conference games. In their four home games so far, the blue and gold saw an average attendance of 567.
Given the fact that they begin their Pac-12 slate in front of a home crowd, the energy of the fans should provide a sound advantage for the Bears for one of their stiffest tests of the season. As they enter conference matchups, Cal will need to dig deep in order to walk off the field victorious.
Ali Fazal covers women’s soccer. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.