Cal Women's Soccer kicks off 2021-22 school year

The first Cal contest of the new school year is on Thursday afternoon at UCSD

Just like at most recent Summer Olympics, Women’s Soccer is also the first official contests of the 2021-22 school year. The season kicks off today (Thursday) across the country.

Cal Women’s Soccer will visit UC San Diego this afternoon at 1pm PT (match will be on ESPN+), ahead of hosting the defending NCAA Champions Santa Clara on Sunday at 4pm PT from Edwards Stadium (Pac-12 Networks will have the coverage).

This means that it’s time for a quick preview of the upcoming Cal Women’s Soccer season.

"2020” Season Recap

The 2020 season was delayed until the spring of 2021, playing only Pac-12 opponents (but not all of them were considered conference matches), Cal went 5-7-1 (3-7) with one match (Washington State) canceled by COVID.

Cal had a bit of an uneven season, particularly with a pair of senior leaders both missing some time due to injuries. Fortunately for the Golden Bears, both defender Emily Smith and midfielder Emma Westin are back for this fall campaign as fifth-year seniors. Westin, in just 8 matches, tied transfer Keely Roy with 3 goals to lead the Bears. Westin also had a team high 3 assists for a Cal squad that only tallied 11 goals in 13 matches.

Angelina Anderson, coming off a fantastic freshman year where she was both the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year as well as the Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Year, played every minute at goal in her solid sophomore season.

Reasons for Optimism

The first-ever top-rated recruiting class in Cal Women’s Soccer history is finally on campus. This class is 14 players deep with almost all ranked as top-200 recruits in the country.

Noelle Bond-FlaszaCailin BloomCourtney BooneMaya GriffinVelize KingKei KitamuraKarlie LemaAri ManriqueAasha McLynAyo OkeMarleen RohdeAaliyah SchinamanAlexis Wright and Jordyn Young make up the class of fantastic freshmen. 

Of the 13 national recruits, 11 are ranked in the Top-200, including No. 25 Oke, No. 28 Manrique, and No. 36 Lema. TopDrawerSoccer gave nine recruits a four-star rating, with two rated as three-star athletes. Eight athletes have national team experience, including international recruit, Rohde, who was ranked as one  of TopDrawerSoccer's international newcomers to watch.

With 38 players list on the roster, it will be very interesting to see who will earn playing time right away. The newcomers will be mentored by some of Cal’s veteran leaders.

Defender Emily Smith was drafted in the 2021 NWSL Draft this January as the 31st overall pick by the expansion team Racing Louisville FC. The special pandemic rule allows her to play both the spring and fall seasons with Cal before reporting to her NWSL squad for their 2022 season. Smith will surely be one of the main defensive stalwart for the Golden Bears again.

In addition to Smith, Cal got more experience in the backline with senior defenders Sydney Collins (1st on the team in minutes for non-keeper in the spring) and Abena Aidoo (5th on the team in minutes in the spring) back. The three veteran defenders may be joined by freshman Oke, who is the highest rated recruit in a loaded class.

Emma Westin is the offensive leader for the Bears from the midfield. The Swedish native should have even more weapons to distribute the ball to for this 2021 Fall season. Westin has 19 goals and 12 assists in 4 years of action. She recorded 11 goals, including 3 game winners, for the Bears in 2019.

Goalkeeper Angelina Anderson will also fill another important spot on the squad. The junior continues Cal’s great history of producing great goalkeepers in both women’s and men’s soccer. Anderson is already on the verge of top-5 in Cal history for saves, despite playing what is essentially just 1.5 season worth of matches.

Both the Cal Women’s and Men’s Soccer programs will return to Edwards Stadium for this fall 2021 season after spending the spring 2021 season playing at Witter Rugby Field. This should certainly be a good news for the team, although the long-term future of where the soccer programs will play on campus is one of the many unresolved issues facing Cal Athletics. The land that Edwards Stadium sit on may be converted by the University into dorms and other projects; Cal Athletics ceded that prime real estate to the University in exchange for the Memorial Stadium debt to be picked up by the University as whole.

By the way, in case you missed it, check out the fun video below of Cal Football players take on Cal Women’s Soccer players in penalty shootouts.

Reasons for Concerns

Cal head coach Neil McGuire had always loved to play as many players as possible (college soccer substitution rule allows players to be subbed out in the first half but still return to the match for the second half), how will he deal with a bloated roster of 38 players? Could some players not get enough playing time to stay sharp?

These non-conference matches will be interesting to see if a reliable starting lineup will emerge. Ideally, some of the many freshman will continue to improve and push for play time even into conference play. Competition within the team would generally be a good thing.

Unfortunately, there were never any public resolutions to the whole McGuire abuse scandal. Even if you think it is perfectly fine for a head coach in 2021 to be the anti-Ted Lasso and the bad experiences by these former players were unique exceptions rather than systematic of the program, this recent scandal will still hang over the program for awhile. The biggest impact may come from recruiting1; only time will tell if that has any lasting impact. With so many players on the squad, many players will also be out by 2022. We shall see if they will leave the program on good term or not.

Back on the pitch, Cal Women’s Soccer has been rather inconsistent for the past decade plus under McGuire. Golden Bears have never truly contended for the Pac-12 title, which is hard with Stanford, UCLA, and USC all becoming national powers during this past decade. Bears are notorious for dropping to a mid-tier Pac-12 squad and for some early exits in the NCAA tournament. With a stud goalkeeper like Angelina Anderson, Cal is more than capable of making a deep run in the postseason, if not win it all, on paper.

Most Likely Outcomes

With all the talent on campus, Cal should be back to a winning record and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament this fall. With the top of the Pac-12 picture being murkier this season than for the past 5 years, when it was dominated by Stanford, Cal could finally be in the mix for the conference crown, but I have also wrote this line just about yearly. Middle of the Pac is again a more likely result, but this should be a fun team to watch just to see how good these freshmen are and how much impact they can make.

GO BEARS!

1

Cynically, one might even hypothesize that Neil McGuire drove away players intentionally to land this No.1 recruit class.