Women’s soccer prepares for daunting final stretch

Senior forward Sydney Johnson handles the ball in a game against Colorado at McAlister Field in Los Angeles. Photo by Mohammad Alsubaie | Daily Trojan

The No. 5 women’s soccer team (13-1-1) returns home from a successful Washington weekend road trip ready to play host to a challenging No. 16 Cal (13-2-1) team on Thursday.

Cal will represent the toughest test for the Trojans this season as the conclusion of the Pac-12 season arrives. The Golden Bears played Oregon on Sunday at home, downing the Ducks 3-0. Oregon was able to keep the score respectable for the entire first half, entering halftime tied 0-0. However, as the game went on, the Ducks defense started to fall apart. Three goals in 10 minutes from the Cal offense resigned Oregon to its fate, as Cal outshot the Ducks 14-8 (8-3 on target) this game.

Cal is led in scoring by sophomore midfielder Abi Kim and junior forward Miranda Nild, who have 7 and 6 goals, respectively, this season. These two represent the key pieces of the Cal attack and will need to be marked at all times by the USC defense.

The Golden Bears are a very dangerous team not only in attack — as demonstrated by the exploits by Kim and Nild — but also in defense, only conceding 6 goals all season. In comparison, the Trojans have conceded 9 goals this season. Cal has also been high-scoring this season, netting 1.56 goals per game compared to its opponent’s 0.38 goals per game. 

The Trojans will have to find a way to break down the Golden Bears’ defense, which is led by seniors Indigo Gibson and Haley Lukas, who have started 16 and 15 of Cal’s games this season, respectively. The Trojans will continue to rely on senior forward Alex Anthony, who scored yet again this past weekend, netting twice against Washington, bringing her goal tally up to 7 this season. 

She is helped by junior forward Leah Pruitt, who also scored this past weekend, putting her name on the scoresheet in Sunday’s game against Washington State. Both will hope to continue their scoring form tomorrow as the Cal defense will not be easy to score against. Chances will be few and far between, so the Trojans’ offense will have to be on high alert and not waste any chances. 

This game will pit free-scoring offenses against stringent defenses, not prone to many mistakes and allowing easy goal-scoring opportunities. This game — placing USC (second in the Pac-12 standings) against Cal (tied for third in the Pac-12 standings) — will be an a great barometer for the Trojans, as they will be able to see how they compare with a Pac-12 and national powerhouse. The Trojans’ offense and defense will both have to show up ready to play and battle, knowing that this Cal team represents their greatest test yet.

The offense will have to take its opportunities when given, making each chance count, while the defense will have to remain strong, not allowing the Golden Bears to attack any open spaces in the defense. 

If the Trojans can accomplish these tasks, a place in the top five of the national rankings is certainly achievable and will provide a confidence booster for the following two games against No. 1 Stanford and No. 6 UCLA.