The time is now: Cal looks to catch fire against Arizona, ASU

photo of Cal women's soccer
Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff

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With five games left in their fall 2021 schedule, time is of the essence for the Bears. To have a formidable chance at postseason play, wins are an absolute must.

On Thursday, Oct. 21 and Sunday, Oct. 24, Cal women’s soccer is set to square off in Berkeley for its last set of home games against Arizona and Arizona State, respectively. Coming off the heels of a much-needed 1-0 victory versus Utah, the home team is dialed in for more.

Having accumulated seven total points since the start of Pac-12 play, the Bears sit in the eighth spot of one of the nation’s most decorated NCAA women’s soccer conferences. Of the four teams lagging behind them, two hail from the Grand Canyon State — a soothing sight for the Bears in preparation for this week’s matches. Though Cal has underperformed in several games in which it was favored, including a 2-2 draw against Colorado and a 0-1 loss to Washington, there is little reason for the blue and gold to fret.

When its cleats are clicking properly, Cal is a particularly dangerous team. It has proven capable of consistently outshooting its opponents, often led far and away by underclassmen charting their way forward well past the halfway line. A complete unit with multiple goal-scoring threats, the core of Cal’s offense is none other than freshman forward Karlie Lema.

“Karlie is benefitting from some real quality play from those around her,” said head coach Neil McGuire. “Yet, it’s good to see her have the confidence to take the responsibility of goal scoring.”

Lema, who was named to the prestigious U.S. U-17 National Team Camp on five occasions in 2019 and 2020, has racked up the most points for Cal with five total goals. Right beside her is sophomore forward Abby Borchers, who has tallied two goals this season, as well as Cal’s second and third leading shot-takers in freshman forward Ari Manrique and midfielder Marleen Rohde.

The blue and gold’s back line has also shown flashes of greatness this season. Having yet to give up more than two goals in a game, the defensive unit is made up of players such as junior goalkeeper Angelina Anderson and freshman defender Courtney Boone, both of whom earned Pac-12 awards this past week.

“Our defensive unit is very experienced. If you look at Angelina and the players in front of her, their several years together and understanding of one another is very real,” McGuire said. “Courtney Boone has fit right into that because she’s a very astute player.”

Cal currently holds an overall record of 6-4-3, and ranks No. 62 in the nation. For the NCAA women’s soccer college cup in November, only 64 teams will be allowed to compete. If Cal were to keep its record status quo, then it’d have a decent shot at earning a bid into next month’s tournament.

But the Bears are trying not to let history repeat itself.

To close out the spring 2021 season, Cal went on a disappointing four-game losing streak and ended with a suboptimal overall record of 5-7-1. Before the stretch of losses, the team was in a likely position to play in the college cup. This season, post-Arizona play, their upcoming matches include USC, UCLA and Stanford — an almost identical order of opponents from earlier this year, composed of teams that currently hold records just as lethal as the last time they met with Cal.

“We certainly have our own destiny in our hands,” McGuire said. “We have very challenging opponents but we’re confident in ourselves. If we are able to perform well in the next five games, we would hope we would make the NCAA tournament.”

To give themselves cushioning before playing some of the Pac-12’s best, it’s now or never for the blue and gold to secure two seemingly straightforward victories. Because ultimately, time is of the essence for the Bears.

Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].