Unranked But Dangerous 49ers Await Cal

Photo: Senior midfielder Emily Shibata has started four out of the Bears' five games so far. Shibata has one assist and has taken one shot.
Michael Restrepo/File
Senior midfielder Emily Shibata has started four out of the Bears' five games so far. Shibata has one assist and has taken one shot.

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At the California Invitational last weekend, the Cal women's soccer team faced the challenge of playing teams with whom it was not familiar.

That challenge proved to be not one at all, as the Bears pummeled their unranked opponents Rice and Hawaii, 4-1 and 8-1 respectively.

As coach Neil McGuire's squad charts unknown territory with yet another unranked team, Long Beach State, which Cal last played in 2001, the Bears might need to be a little more cautious.

The 49ers' conference opponents do not measure up to Cal's Pac-10 competition, but Long Beach State hasn't had many problems taking on ranked opponents this season.

Although they kicked off their season with a loss to No. 14 BYU, the 49ers defeated No. 21 Washington State and No. 16 Virginia Tech in two consecutive matches. Those games are a part of a current five-game undefeated streak.

The Bears had no difficulty adjusting their style of play to take on relatively unknown opponents last weekend, but according to McGuire, this weekend those adjustments will prove more complicated.

"They have two different styles available to them," he said, explaining that the 49ers are skilled at playing a more direct game of soccer but have a calmer, more possessive style of play at their disposal as well.

And Cal probably can't hope to emerge with a smashing eight-goal victory like last week either. Long Beach State has allowed no more than two goals in a game this season.

"We have to have balance in our attack," McGuire said. "We have to be able to penetrate them centrally and from wide positions and be prepared to take open shots."

Captain Alex Morgan will likely be crucial to breaking down the 49ers defense, as she has scored seven of the Bears' 16 goals and taken 34 of their 86 shots.

The senior was recently selected by national team coach Pia Sundhage as a member of the preliminary 30-player roster for the team's final international matches prior to the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament.

"If Alex performs really well, she's got every chance to make the World Cup squad," McGuire said.

And the Bears will have a potential World Cup player at their disposal at least for this weekend. The training camp doesn't start until later this month, and the games against China aren't until early October.

Long Beach will be better preparation for the competition Morgan will face at the camps than last weekend's opponents. The forward scored a hat trick against Hawaii and two goals against Rice.

Defensively, Cal will need to be watching out for Long Beach's set pieces.

Additionally, McGuire said, the 49ers are strong in attacking off long balls, so the Bears will likely need to be wary of that.


Alex Matthews covers women's soccer. Contact her at [email protected]

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