MPSF play begins this weekend, and the big game is when No. 4 California Golden Bears travel South to take on the top ranked USC Trojans. This will be the second weekend that Cal will be playing without the five players that were dismissed from the team. With another week of practice with the reduced team, that should provide the team some more time to be more cohesive with the new players who are stepping up.
This is the game of the week, not just because it is a two teams in the top-four, but also because it will be broadcast on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday Sept. 22 -- so watch this game live.
USC is the favorite in this game, but they should not overlook a depleted Cal team. Last week at the NorCal Invitational, Cal was able to hang with the UCLA Bruins and Stanford Cardinal where they lost to both teams by just one goal each. So, Cal will still be a tough team for USC on Sunday afternoon.
The one thing that makes USC great is that they spread the scoring around and have 19 players scoring a goal so far in the young season. Leading the way for USC is Nikola Vavic who has 26, and a team they are averaging 15.75 goals per game. Cal will need a good defensive effort as they need to not only try to slow down Vavic, but they need to be aware of the entire team since any player is capable of scoring.
Cal is 7-2 overall and took fourth place in last week's NorCal Invitational. It was already mentioned that their two loses came against UCLA and Stanford. Cal did beat Air Force 19-2 and UC Irvine 14-7 before losing their final two games.
Collin Smith leads Cal in scoring with 29 goals to date, and goalie Michael Boggan is averaging 8.2 saves and 6.5 goals against per game. Cal also will need Serbian Olympic team member Aleksa Saponjic to have a big game if they want to have a shot against USC.
Cal needs to avoid a fast start by USC if they want to have a chance of earning the upset. USC played No. 2 UCLA last week and raced out to a 5-0 lead before UCLA was able to get on the board in the second quarter. Not falling behind early is a key for Cal to be able to stand a chance to upset USC. Defense early on is a key, just do not let USC strike early and often. Not sure how well Cal can do that, but it is imperative to keep the game close. As long as it is a one- or even two-goal game, Cal will have a shot.