The Cal men’s soccer team is in a midseason funk. In two matches, the Bears have fallen from the squad most likely to challenge UCLA for the Pac-12 title to a middling program in the conference standings.
With seven matches left on the schedule, Cal needs to right its ship fast. The Bears (6-4-1, 1-2-0) are praying that their northern expedition to Washington on Friday and Oregon State on Sunday will do the trick.
After going undefeated for six consecutive games, the Bears watched their season take an unpleasant turn in the past two weeks. Cal started the streak with a 4-1 rout against the University of Central Florida at home.
The ensuing wins and tie were characterized by goals from a multitude of players and a stalwart defense.
But the flame has since been extinguished. After losing to No. 5 UCLA, 3-1, Cal floundered at Stanford in a 2-0 loss last Thursday.
The Bears were sorely missing senior defenders Steve Birnbaum and Ted Jones in both matches. The absences forced head coach Kevin Grimes to shuffle his defensive rotation, to little success. Cal surrendered five goals in those two matches after allowing just two in its undefeated streak.
“We’ve run into a bit of a stumbling block these last two games,” head coach Kevin Grimes said. “We need to rebound like we did early in the season.”
Grimes is unshaken despite his team’s recent struggles. He has taken the slump as is and plans on moving forward without looking back.
“Each week we try to identify one or two things to improve,” said coach Grimes. “The key is to try to always improve.”
As Cal sinks into conference irrelevancy, Washington has been climbing up the Pac-12 standings.
The Huskies(7-3-2, 2-0-1) enter the tilt against Cal with a four-match winning streak that includes an upset of No. 5 UCLA.
In the conference’s first big upset of the season, the Huskies jumped out to an early 2-0 lead with a goal in both halves. The Bruins scored a consolation goal in the 71st minute, but they couldn’t notch the equalizer.
After losing star striker Brent Richards to graduation, Washington has found its next go-to goalscorer in Dylan Tucker-Gangnes. Tucker-Gangnes, a midfielder who occasionally plays defender, is tied for first in the conference with seven goals.
With the senior Tucker-Gangnes as the fulcrum of the offense, the Huskies have built a formidable rotation under head coach Jamie Clark.
“Washington has quality at every position,” said coach Grimes. “They’ve been having a good season.”
The other top scorer in the Pac-12 is Oregon State forward Emery Welshman. The senior Welshman has been the sole weapon in the Beavers’ attacking schemes, scoring key game-changing goals whenever necessary.
Last weekend, Welshmen scored the lone goal that gave Oregon State the victory over San Diego State.
With two top scorers in the conference squaring off against Cal, it comes back to the defense. If Grimes and his crew are still without Jones and Birnbaum, the Bears might have a rocky weekend in the Pacific Northwest.
Seung Y. Lee covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]
Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regard to the readers, writers and contributors of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Click here to read the full comment policy.