It’s a little over halfway through their fall 2021 season and the Bears have managed to keep afloat despite a number of early-season challenges. On Thursday, Oregon sank Cal 2-0 to end September’s slate of matches. The blue and gold then regrouped Sunday against Oregon State, thrashing the Beavers 2-1 to start the new month.
In its first of two Pac-12 matchups this past week, Cal came out flat. Beyond the statistics, in which the Bears took 11 shots to the Ducks’ 10, the game appeared to be one-sided. While Oregon capitalized on gaps in the Bears’ typically steady backline, Cal struggled to keep up.
“They’re very well organized, very well coached… We also knew that they had good speed behind our line,”said head coach Neil McGuire. “Their strength in set pieces was something we couldn’t stop.”
By the 26th minute, the Ducks’ first score came earlier than the Bears had planned. During a routine corner kick by Oregon, a Cal defender rifled the ball abruptly past junior goalkeeper Angelina Anderson in a demoralizing own goal.
Thereafter, Cal’s climb was an uphill battle.
In the 54th minute, the Ducks mounted on the pressure. Off of a perfectly placed cross from Oregon midfielder Caitlin Shaw, defender Anna Phillips was there for a header that slid through the right side of the goal. To try and answer back, the Bears had arguably their closest scoring opportunity in the 86th minute of action.
From a through ball by senior defender Sydney Collins, freshman forward Karlie Lema nearly pocketed a rocket past Oregon goalkeeper Leah Freeman. But Freeman, who currently owns an impressive save percentage of nearly 88%, dove to her left in time to punt away the shot and shut out the Bears in Berkeley.
Oregon now sits in the fifth overall spot in the conference with a record of 6-1-4. Previously behind them was its rival in Oregon State, which boasted nine total wins and only one loss heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Bears.
“Our players came in with the right mindset in preparation for a challenge in Oregon State,” Mcguire said. “We were more composed with the ball. We were more poised with possession. … We were able to keep the ball longer, making it more difficult for them to use their counterattack.”
Back in Edwards Stadium for its third consecutive home game, Cal outpaced the Beavers right from kickoff. By setting up offensive opportunities through its midfield unit, including senior Paige Metayer, junior Kaylee Nguyen and freshman Marleen Rohde, the home team looked comfortably in control throughout 90 minutes of play.
In setting the tempo, Cal struck gold first. Fourteen minutes before the halftime break, the Bears charged their way down the attacking third. Freshman forward Alexis Wright grounded a shot straight to Oregon State goalkeeper Bridgette Skiba, who fumbled the ball while attempting to recover from her feet. Swooping in for a finish was junior forward Natalie Hueston, who flew the ball high above the head of a stumbling Skiba and into the back of the net.
Remarkably, even having outshot the Beavers 19 to four, Cal’s second goal didn’t come until the 81st minute. Off a corner kick, Rohde converted while falling to her feet a couple of feet out from the goal line — the German local’s first-ever goal with the team.
“Marleen can play a number of positions. She can play the six, she can play the eight, she can play the ten — so, ultimately anywhere in the midfield, centrally,” McGuire said. “We know she’s a goal-scoring threat… but she can also control the tempo of the game.”
Oregon State also had its fair share of impressive moments. In just two minutes after the Bears had connected on its first goal, the Beavers answered back on a set piece: Forward Brianna McReynolds drilled a shot from distance to put her team back on the board. But after such a spectacular play, Oregon State failed to follow up with another score.
With Sunday’s win, Cal is now tied for the fifth-best team in the Pac-12, alongside Oregon and Colorado. Having racked up four total points since the start of conference play, the Bears remain just as competitive as their neighboring counterparts and hope to continue swimming for future games.
“This year, the depth in the conference is as good as I’ve seen it,” McGuire said. “We know that every match is going to be a challenge. … But, we are continuing to grow from strength to strength on the details and look forward to our next two matches.”