In the 73rd minute, the UCLA men’s soccer team was quickly on the attack. The Cal defenders looked ready, outnumbering the Bruins in the fastbreak. In most cases, the Bears’ defense would have found a way to clear the ball.
But what came next was soccer at its best and most beautiful. Like a choreographed dance, three UCLA players shredded the Cal defense with their lightning-quick passes. Five passes later, midfielder Ryan Hollingshead shot the ball past a frozen Kevin Peach in the goal for the Bruins’ third goal.
That was the final nail in the coffin for the Cal men’s soccer team’s day (6-3-1, 1-1 in the Pac-12). The Bears’ undefeated streak in Edwards Stadium this season ended with a 3-1 loss to No. 9 UCLA (7-1-2, 2-0) on Sunday.
It was a bitter finish to a thrilling start to Cal’s Pac-12 season this weekend. Two days before, the Bears defeated San Diego State in a 1-0 victory with a golden goal in the 108th minute.
For the first half against the Bruins, neither side had an advantage. Both teams couldn’t manufacture any legitimate goal opportunities in the first 45 minutes.
It was a battle of two distinctly different styles of soccer in the first half. UCLA was the more agile and stealthy team, craftily controlling the pace of the game. Cal was brute force, using its collective size advantage to win the ball and overpower the defense.
But when the second half started, the Bruins came out as the more dominant team. As Cal head coach Kevin Grimes was left scratching his head by the bench, the Bears fell back deeper and deeper into a hole.
“For whatever reason, we were just flat to start the second half,” Grimes said. “It was just about a 20-minute spell in the beginning of the second half where we looked out of sorts.”
In the 55th minute, UCLA forward Victor Chavez scored the first goal with a low volley from outside the box. Six minutes later, midfielder Victor Munoz doubled the lead with a tap-in from Hollingshead’s cross.
Down 2-0, Cal relentlessly attacked. But the Bears’ forwards could not find a way to keep possession of the ball, killing any offensive momentum the defenders and midfielders have mustered.
“Forwards needed to hold the ball and let the team get up (the field) as a whole,” midfielder Seth Casiple said. “We needed to keep possession higher up in the field.”
The forwards collectively struggled against both San Diego State and UCLA this weekend. In addition to looking disconnected with the midfielders in attacks, the strikers also tallied eight offsides in the two matches that stunted any developing momenta.
“It’s essentially concentration and alertness,” Grimes said on the offsides. “We don’t have a drill for offsides. We got to check out some video reviews.”
After falling behind 3-0 in the 73rd minute, the Bears finally broke the drought with a free kick goal by Casiple in the 89th minute. The consolation goal was too late to turn around the rudely awakening loss to the best team in the Pac-12.
“What separates them (from the rest) is that teams like UCLA play like this consistently every day, Friday or Sunday,” Casiple said.