The UCLA women’s soccer team (18-4-1) will face the Stanford Cardinal (22-1) tonight in the semifinals of the Women’s College Cup at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California. Kickoff is at 6:30 pm PT. The winner of the game will square off against the winner of Washington State versus North Carolina, which kicks off at the same venue earlier in the day at 4:00 pm PT.
This is the first time in conference history that the Pac-12 (or Pac-10) has placed three teams in the “Final four” of the NCAA women’s soccer postseason. The UCLA versus Stanford game has the feel of a final and, indeed, those same two teams played for all the marbles in Orlando, Florida two years ago, with the Cardinal defeating UCLA by the score of 3-2, earning its second title in soccer.
If you live in the Bay Area and like soccer, I strongly encourage you to get out to Avaya Stadium and support the Bruins. This will be an outstanding display of soccer between many of the best college players in the country as well as current and future internationals. Plus, the team could use some blue shirts in San Jose to balance out all the cardinal, as Stanford’s campus is only about twenty miles from Avaya Stadium.
Last Time Out
To get the the Women’s College Cup, the Bruins had to travel to Tallahassee for Thanksgiving and play a 2 pm ET (11 am PT) game last Friday afternoon. The partisan home crowd was loud, at least until the Bruins started scoring.
Chloe Castaneda put the Bruins up 1-0 early on in the 8th minute on a ball that came into the box from the left side, was headed by Castaneda toward the left post, headed by Mia Fishel back across the face of goal, and half-volleyed into the back of the net by Castaneda with her right foot.
Castaneda would double the lead in the 18th minute, settling a long ball in the box, making a one-on-one move to open up her shot, and firing a left-footed stunner into the side netting. With it now 2-0 UCLA, the Seminoles were reeling.
It did not get better for the ‘Noles. In the 32nd minute, UCLA freshman forward Mia Fishel received a through ball and was one-on-one with Florida State’s ‘keeper, who saved the first shot. But Fishel saw the rebound, collected it, and finished with a sliding shot to put UCLA up 3-0 at the half.
Fishel would get on the board one more time, earning herself a brace to go with Castaneda’s, heading home a corner kick through traffic in the 54th minute.
The Bruins looked in control the entire game. Florida State didn’t put a shot on net until the very end of the first half and it was a weak attempt from outside the box at that. Although the ‘Noles had more of the ball in the second half and consequently registered more shots, UCLA had altered its style, possessing the ball for long stretches and playing great team defense to stifle any true Florida State threat. Teagan Micah only had to make two saves against the defending National Champions on their home field to earn the clean sheet.
The Bruins look like they could beat just about anyone in the nation right now with, perhaps, the exception of one team . . .
Stanford has won 17 straight games, with the team’s last loss to Pepperdine in Malibu on Friday the 13th of September. And the Cardinal have been absolutely bossing teams. Stanford has scored 98 goals in 23 games, an average of more than four goals a game. The Cardinal lead the nation in goals and assists.
Junior forward Catarina Macario has 32 goals and 23 assists on the season. That is an entire four-year career for very good college players! Macario has 87 points on the season (you get two points for a goal, one for an assist), which is third best in women’s college soccer history and behind only two legends of the game, USWNT G.O.A.T. Mia Hamm (97) and Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair (88). The Bruins will try to keep Macario off the score sheet tonight and firmly in third place behind Hamm and Sinclair.
But the Cardinal have other ways to burn you. Fifteen Stanford players have scored at least one goal this year, and two players, sophomore forward Sophia Smith (14 goals, 9 assists) and junior forward Madison Haley (11 goals, 12 assists) have had great seasons in their own right. But even stopping those three does not guarantee a win. Indeed, during the Cardinal’s 1-0 win over UCLA in Palo Alto earlier this year, it was freshman midfielder Maya Doms who scored the only goal in the 18th minute.
Stanford is not just an offensive force. They are great at defending as well. Led by sophomore Naomi Girma, junior Kiki Pickett, and senior Sam Hiatt on the back line, the Cardinal have only allowed eleven goals on the season. More amazing is the amount of saves made by Cardinal goalkeepers: 27. That means that Stanford only gave up 38 shots on target all season long, an average of less than two shots on target per game. That IS defending, ladies and gentlemen.
The Cardinal have platooned their goalkeepers this season, but it’s been redshirt freshman Katie Meyers who has gotten almost all of the starts against quality competition, including the UCLA game earlier this season. Look for Meyers, who is 14-0 with ten saves and six clean sheets, to start in goal tonight.
It’s the Women’s College Cup and anything can happen, but the Bruins will need to have a Florida State-type performance to have a chance against the juggernaut that is Stanford. The Cardinal have won the last six matches versus UCLA, who has not beaten Stanford since 2014. The last five have been tight though—all decided by one goal.
In their loss to the Cardinal earlier this season, the Bruins out shot Stanford 8-5, but only put two on target while Stanford put three on goal, one of which found the back of the net.
One wild card will be the weather. The chance of rain is around 60% at kickoff and will increase during the two hours of game time. How will the teams adjust to the elements and who will have the better game plan to deal with the rain?
Will this be the game that the UCLA women’s soccer team gets the Stanford monkey off its back? Most neutrals would say that a Bruin win is unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Hell, UCLA just beat a Florida State team 4-0 when the Seminoles’ postseason home record before that game as 47-1-1 all time.
Here’s to stranger things happening and, hopefully, the Bruins fighting to play one more game on Sunday!