Nil no more: Cal searches for more offense against Utah

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Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff

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Nil: a British soccer term of Latin origin meaning nothing, naught, zero.

You can’t spell California without “N,” “I,” “L,” and, unfortunately for the California Golden Bears, you also can’t characterize their conference play without conjuring the essence of nil.

Cal women’s soccer has been blanked in its last two games — 1-0 to Washington and 2-0 to Washington State — and has been held scoreless in all three of its conference losses this season. Cal’s inability to score against quality teams is clearly evident.

“The good news is that we’re creating a lot of goal-scoring opportunities,” said head coach Neil McGuire. “What we have to do is to turn those opportunities into goals.”

Freshman standout Karlie Lema has been Cal’s lone goal-scoring star, posting four goals in 29 attempts across 12 games played. Fellow underclassman Abby Borchers remains as the only other Bear to score more than one goal on the season, while senior Sydney Collins has played her role as Jason Kidd on the pitch with four assists.

“In looking at those who are playing up front, it’s essentially all new players to the program,” McGuire said. “We just (have) to continue to try and show confidence in them and to allow them to feel comfortable. The more comfortable they feel, they’ll start to produce the results they are capable of.”

The lack of offensive output has put a lot of pressure on the Bears’ defensive line. To the defense’s credit, however, it has risen to the occasion, allowing just 0.92 goals per game and “nilling” its opponents four times — although not in Pac-12 play. Serving as Cal’s final line of defense, goalie Angelina Anderson has posted a quality 67% save percentage in 10 games played.

But if there’s any time for the Bear offense to wake up and its stout defense to continue its stellar play, it is against a struggling Utah team limping into Friday’s matchup.

The Utes had a whirlwind of a week during their trip down to Southern California last week. The visiting team put together an impressive performance against No. 3 UCLA, drawing a tie with the Bruins after two overtimes despite a shot deficit of 21-8.

Utah couldn’t carry its stellar showing into the weekend, however, as it was demolished 7-0 by USC on Sunday. The Utes allowed more than 20 shots from the Trojans, highlighting their susceptibility to offensive onslaughts.

“Utah traditionally have been a very good team in possession,” McGuire said. “They’re with a new coach, who is formerly from Stanford, so we know the brand of soccer is going to be similar as it’s been in the past.”

The Ute offense is led by a standout duo of Courtney Talbot and Taliana Kaufusi, who have both registered four goals on the year and combined for 30 shots on goal.

The mountain dwelling team is one of three Pac-12 teams still searching for its first conference victory, as it enters with a 0-3-2 record in the Pac-12 despite having five wins overall. Meanwhile, the Bears sit just above them in the standings, with only one conference win and four points to their name.

A road win Friday would go a long way for Cal’s season outlook as it searches for its second tournament appearance in three years. Looking past this week, the Bears’ Pac-12 slate continues against the Arizona schools: the only other winless teams in the conference. This next stretch will be crucial to climbing back into the hunt, as the Bears attempt to keep their opponents to a nil in their win column.

Noah Parker covers women’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].