Ask any coach or player and they will tell you that the details are one of the most important aspects of playing a complete game. It’s what separates the good teams from the great ones. After Cal’s draw against Colorado, the Bears’ head coach Neil McGuire offered a similar sentiment.
“Coaches and players have to pay attention to the details that opponents can hurt us with, and also be more precise in the things that we can be exceptional at,” McGuire said.
With an opportunity to move up in the Pac-12 standings, Cal’s success will depend on how attentive it can be to those details. The Bears will say goodbye to Edwards Stadium for three games, their longest string of away games of the season thus far, but not before hosting Oregon on Sept. 30 and Oregon State on Oct. 3.
Thursday’s game provides the Bears with an opportunity to begin their ascent into the upper echelon of the top Pac-12 teams, as the Ducks hold a spot above the Bears in conference standings. It will be no easy task, as Oregon battled No. 3 UCLA to a 0-0 tie in its last outing. The draw extended Oregon’s unbeaten streak to 11 games, including last season.
Fans will get to see firsthand the physicality of Pac-12 play in the Bears vs Ducks matchup — Cal and Oregon rank first and second, respectively, in fouls and fouls per game. In addition, the blue and gold must contend with the Ducks’ uncanny ability to maximize their chances. Oregon will come into the game averaging half a goal per game more than the blue and gold. All that being said, the real challenge could be countering Oregon’s back line.
Similar to Cal, Oregon has only been shut out once this season, and Ducks’ sophomore keeper Leah Freeman has propelled Oregon to five shutouts — ranking third in the Pac 12. Given the fact that Cal boasts a dangerous back line of its own, with junior goalkeeper Angelina Anderson having recorded four shutouts, the game could come down to who can take advantage of fleeting chances to put the ball in the back of the net and avoid small mistakes.
The Bears’ back line will also attempt to hold its own against the Beavers on Oct. 3. Although Oregon State is ranked No. 10 in the Pac-12, its eight wins are tied for first in the conference. The Beavers are buoyed by their ability to keep the ball on the offensive side of the field, as they rank first in the Pac-12 in corner kicks, averaging 8.33 per game.
Cal will also need multitudes of discipline to pull out a win. While the Bears rank first in the conference in yellow cards per game with an average 1.13, the Beavers are one of the most controlled teams in the Pac 12, with their 0.22 yellows per game trailing only USC for the best spot. Cal can only hope that a fewer number of cards allows it to play a more free game without any worries of possible ejections.
The blue and gold’s upcoming slate provides a checkpoint to measure their success after having to deal with cancellations of past games due to COVID-19. There’s a difference between going up against Pac-12 teams and non-conference teams, especially in terms of stakes and rigor.
“Obviously we love to play great teams,” McGuire said. “And so when we’re playing a team out of conference that’s exciting to play, we’re always going to get excited for those matches, but there’s a special feeling to play in the nation’s best conference.”
The Bears are practicing a “one step at a time” attitude. The only question is how big those steps will be. As Oregon and Oregon State come to town, victories that occurred over the weekend will make that one step seem a whole lot larger.
Ali Fazal covers women’s soccer. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.