With three games left in its season, the Cal men’s soccer team is floating on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Currently placed third in the Pac-12 standings behind No. 7 UCLA and No. 24 Washington, the Bears (8-5-2, 3-3-1 in the Pac-12) certainly can use a win or two to strengthen its resume.
This weekend, the Bears’ bubble can either shrink or pop in Southern California. After stopping first at San Diego State on Thursday at 7 p.m., Cal will head to the Bruins’ lair at Drake Stadium on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Four weeks ago, the Bears played both the Aztecs and UCLA in Edwards Stadium. After edging past San Diego State (6-7-3, 0-5-2) in double overtime with Stefano Bonomo’s golden goal, Cal was crushed by the Bruins by three goals.
UCLA (11-2-2, 6-1-0) dominated the match, ending Cal’s six-match undefeated streak and the start of three-match losing skid.
For the Bears, the loss stung painfully as soon as the final whistle was blown. For over a month, Cal players have been grinding their axes for revenge.
“It’ll be in the back of our minds when we head down (to UCLA),” midfielder Seth Casiple said after the loss to UCLA. “Hopefully we’ll have a couple of wins by then.”
Cal did pick up a pair of victories in the last four weeks, but the effort was not enough to impress the NCAA selection committee.
Both of Cal’s wins came against Oregon State, ranked fifth in the Pac-12. The Bears pushed first-place Washington to double overtime in both matchups but came out with only one tie.
While Cal is struggling to win a big match, UCLA is recently coming off a seismic victory.
On Monday, the Bruins defeated the Huskies, 1-0, ending Washington’s perfect Pac-12 play. UCLA finally turned the close race for the conference title in its favor — if the Bruins win their three remaining matches, they will retain the Pac-12 crown.
The Bruins are currently riding a high tide by winning the last three matches. While the wins were all decided by a one goal margin, both the UCLA offense and defense stepped up when necessary.
In the 4-3 win against San Diego State that traded goals like a ping pong match, the Bruins offense mustered responses to every goal scored by the Aztecs. In the 1-0 victory versus the Huskies, the UCLA defense one-upped the acclaimed Washington defense by allowing one shot on goal the entire match.
It will be a tall task for the Bears to stop the red-hot Bruins. The defensive unit somehow needs to shut down the four or five UCLA players who terrorized it in their last matchup.
The midfielders and strikers will look to retain possession and score goals early in the match. It will be the only way to keep the Bruins offense at bay.
Cal this season has lacked a big result from a big team. A win, or even a tie, against UCLA can do the trick that gets the Bears in the NCAAs.
Seung Y. Lee covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]
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