Sabo, Mueller score as Cal gets third straight shutout
In a game marred by high winds and dirty play, the Cal women’s soccer team came out on top, 2-0, over a plucky but overmatched Arizona squad.
First-half goals by forward Kyla Sabo and defender Ashley Mueller provided the scoreline, but it was during the second half that things got interesting. After playing with the strong wind at their backs in the first half, the Bears struggled to keep Arizona (3-11-2, 0-5-1 Pac-10) from getting scoring opportunities with the wind in their faces, as the Wildcats sent high ball after high ball down the field.
“I’ll take rain, even a little snow over this kind of wind,” Cal head coach Kevin Boyd said. “It effects the gameplay quite a bit. You feel like you’re running uphill when its in your face. I thought we played well in spite of the conditions.”
Midfielder Ashley Gonzalez stopped many charges short with her steady play in the air, but the Cal backs were caught napping several times as the Wildcats attacked down the flanks and sent crosses through the box. But Arizona’s forwards couldn’t get a boot to the ball at the right time, and several balls went untouched past the Cal goal.
The second half also saw a change in strategy by the Arizona defense, who supplemented their man-marking and persistent double-teaming of Pac-10 leading scorer Laura Schott with hard fouls. Schott spent most of the half being hacked at, and she eventually retaliated with a hard foul of her own on Arizona’s Cassidy Guinn, who stayed down for several minutes before continuing. Boyd removed Schott from the game soon after, ending the sophomore’s eight-game scoring streak.
“I’m pretty sure their coach got on them at halftime about trying to match up and battle with our forwards, and the referee pretty much swallowed his whistle,” Boyd said. “We just had to work through it and deal with the fouls we took.”
The physical play wasn’t limited to the Arizona defense, as several battles emerged in the midfield, and the Cal defense responded with some physical play of their own.
“We have to control the game. If they’re going to foul our forwards, we’ll go in harder on theirs,” senior sweeper Tami Pivnik said. “We don’t like to play like that, but we’re going to do it if we have to.”
Sabo’s goal came just seven minutes into the game. Cal midfielder Natalie Stuhlmueller streaked down the left sideline and served a cross right onto the onrushing Sabo, who headed the ball past Arizona goalkeeper Inger Airheart. The goal was Sabo’s sixth of the season, giving the junior a career-high 20 points for the year.
Sabo, who also scored a week ago against archrival Stanford, has become a complementary scorer behind Schott, something the team needs as opponents begin to key on stopping the All-America candidate.
“Teams are coming in saying ‘Laura’s the scorer, we’ll man-mark her and they won’t score.’ Kevin’s been telling me I have to step up and be more dangerous,” Sabo said. “They’re so concerned with Laura that they forget about whoever else is up front with her.”
Cal’s second goal came in the 24th minute, as an Arizona defender cleared the ball right to Mueller. The sophomore stepped up and hit the ball with her left foot from 35 yards out, and the ball whistled into the left corner of the net pas the diving Airheart for Mueller’s first goal at Cal.
“I hit it really hard and it just went in,” Mueller said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so accurate. It’s nice because defenders don’t get much of a chance to score.”
The win boosted the Bears overall record to 14-1-1 and put them in second place in the conference with a 4-1 record.
Next up for the Bears is a tough road trip to Los Angeles, where they will play at USC (11-3-2, 3-1-1) on Friday and UCLA (12-2-1, 3-1-1) Sunday. Both teams were undefeated in Pac-10 play before this weekend, when both lost close games to conference leader Washington.
This weekend’s games will likely determine Cal’s postseason fate. Boyd said he feels his team has earned a tournament spot and are now vying for a first-round bye and possible seeded spot. If the Bears earn a split next weekend and sweep the Oregon schools at home to close the season, Boyd expects a first-round bye. The coach said the team needs to win all four remaining games to earn a seeded spot in the tournament, something he thinks is a very real possibility.
“I think we’re playing well. I think we can go in there and give them tough games,” Boyd said. “They’re going to have to do a lot to beat us, that’s for sure.”