There’s a moment, after the ball has left a player’s foot but before it actually reaches the back of the net, when the shooter, and only the shooter, knows that they’ve scored a goal. Call it a soccer player’s sixth sense, their premonitory power, whatever you want. It exists, and it was on full display at the No. 18 Cal women’s soccer team’s (11-2-1, 4-1-1) game Saturday when sophomore Kayla Fong jumped for joy moments before the shot that secured the Bears a 2-0 win against Washington State actually went in.
Cal came out with a bang, scoring in the sixth minute on its first shot on goal of the game. The goal came off the boot of junior Miranda Nild, who drove the ball into the 18-yard box and was able to get a shot off amidst multiple Cougar defenders.
Following the goal, though, the Bears were unable to generate consistent offensive production, taking just three more shots in the next 39 minutes. While having some drives forward, Cal was often lacking the numbers forward needed to capitalize on its opportunities, leaving a lone forward to contend with multiple defenders. And what’s more is the Cougars had clearly done their homework — stepping hard to star forward sophomore Abi Kim and getting a body on her before she was able to turn.
While the Bears were able to hang onto their 1-0 lead, they narrowly escaped multiple Washington State attacks, as the Cougars had three corner kicks in the first half that nearly led to goals. Most notably, in the 43rd minute, Washington State made its way into the box, where Makamae Gomera-Stevens rocketed a shot off that nailed the side post, shaking the entire goal frame. The Bears, though, cleared the rebound and prevented another Cougar attack for the remaining two minutes of the half.
The Bears looked reorganized and refocused coming out in the second half, with freshman Luca Deza forcing Washington State goalkeeper Ella Dederick to make a save just three and a half minutes after play resumed.
“At halftime, we talked about being more aggressive on the ball and pushing our numbers forward and getting balls in behind their defense,” Fong said. “That’s where we really put the dagger in them in the second half.”
Cal was able to more effectively use its flanks, swinging the ball and finding players near the sidelines in order to open up space. The Bears, with their newfound rhythm, generated a plethora of offensive opportunities, and they were finally able to extend their lead to two when Maggie Bell played a ball to the feet of Fong in the box, who turned and ripped a shot that rocketed into the back of the net.
“When we swung it around wide, it opened up holes in their defense, which allowed us to penetrate through and get a lot of shots on goal,” Fong said.
The Bears took nine shots in the second half, with multiple combinations in the final third leading to opportunities inside the 18-yard box that Cal was unable to finish. Perhaps the one thing left for this team to do is make the most of their offensive chances, because with postseason on the horizon, the Bears have got to hone in on offensive efficiency should they want to survive and advance.
The win against Washington State propels Cal to fourth in the Pac-12 with only five more regular-season games. The Bears, however, have yet to face their true competition, with battles against formidable foes No. 6 USC, No. 2 UCLA and No.1 Stanford coming in a few weeks.