There was a noticeable difference in how Cal came onto the field to begin the second half compared to the first. Absent were the high energy and subtle dance moves that preceded the starting 11’s introductions by the PA announcer. The jolly steps exhibited before kickoff were replaced by a slow and dismal trudge as the Bears headed back onto the field to begin the second half.
But following a bleak first half, the last 65 minutes of the game nearly nullified the Bears’ solemnity.
After stumbling out of the gates and quickly digging themselves into a 2-0 hole, the blue and gold rebounded in the second half to earn a 2-2 draw, their third tie of the year. While some may not be completely satisfied with a result that did not add any tallies to the win column, Cal can be satisfied with the way it responded to early adversity.
Colorado notched both of its goals in the opening nine minutes of action — the ball seemed destined to find its way to the feet of a Buffalo player at the start of the match. Colorado’s first goal came courtesy of a long throw-in by senior defender Hannah Sharts, in which the ball bounced off of sophomore forward Shyra James and senior midfielder Shanade Hopcroft delivered a strike in the back of the net after locating the pass. The Buffaloes’ second goal followed a rebound off of a miss from sophomore defender Lawson Willis but found its way to junior midfielder Allie Palangi, who cushioned Colorado’s lead.
That 79-second scoring sequence displayed Colorado’s offensive versatility to both Cal head coach Neil McGuire and fans watching from the stands.
“Colorado is arguably the best team at set pieces in the conference or perhaps the country,” McGuire said. “They’re very good in the air. They are hungry for the ball inside the 18-yard box, and whether it’s a corner, free kick or throw-in, they know that’s what they can create moments from.”
The Bears withstood the Buffaloes’ early onslaught as a quiet atmosphere quickly gave way to loud cheers from both players and fans. With a little more than five minutes elapsed in the second half, freshman forward Karlie Lema continued her impressive rookie campaign, notching a Sydney Collins-assisted header that scampered through the outstretched arms of Colorado goalkeeper Dani Hansen. In the 76th minute, Collins again displayed her passing prowess by finding sophomore forward Abby Borchers for the equalizer. At that point, the anxious crowd rose up to loud, deafening chants of “Go Bears” led by some of the bench players.
Although the Bears rode high on their momentum heading into overtime, the possession battle largely belonged to the Buffaloes in the extra period, as they got off five shots compared to the Bears’ two in the 20 extra minutes. Unfortunately, Cal could not turn key defensive stops, such as goalkeeper Angelina Anderson’s two saves in two minutes in the first half of overtime, into opportunities. The closest Cal came to pulling off the comeback was a shot attempt by Lema in the 92nd minute, which harmlessly sailed out top.
Although McGuire praised Cal’s resiliency and belief in itself, he delivered a blunt, Bill Belichick-type assessment of the team’s performance.
“Today, unfortunately, I think we let ourselves down early,” McGuire said. “We weren’t as precise as we needed to be, so we will continue to grow in that area.”
Cal needs to develop that precision quickly as its next two games will be played just three days apart. The Bears have the luxury of staying put in Berkeley for games against powerhouse Oregon (5-0-4) on Sept. 30 as well as an Oct. 3 match hosting a hungry Oregon State team (8-1-0). A 2-1 loss to USC surely left the Beavers itching for an interconference victory.
As they head into their next set of matches, if the Bears can combine their second half dominance with a renewed energy in the first half, those cheerful entrances onto the field will become considerably more commonplace.
Ali Fazal covers women’s soccer. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.