With a conference record of 1-5-1, besting only Oregon State (0-3-2) to avoid the label of “Worst team in the Pac-12,” the best thing that the Cal men’s soccer team (5-7-2) can do during this last homestand is finish strong.
Cal will play host to No. 16 Washington as well as the Beavers this weekend — two of the last three home games the Bears will play before wrapping up what has been a frustrating and disappointing 2016 season. With an improbable chance to enter the playoff picture this late in the ballgame, Cal will hope to give the home crowd one last hoorah before wrapping up the year against Stanford in two weeks.
“I know we’ve had a rough patch of games through the first half of the season of Pac-12 play, but I honestly feel like this team is really starting to gel,” said sophomore forward Spencer Held. “And while we didn’t get the result against San Diego State, we saw the potential we have against UCLA, and here at home we pride ourselves on not losing. “
It’ll be a tough road ahead for the Bears if they are to open up this weekend series 1-0. The Huskies will be coming into the matchup riding the coattails of a three-game win streak, which started with a 2-1 victory over Cal on Oct. 9. Defensive breakdowns were the deciding factor early last month when squaring up against the Huskies, so the Bears will need to more effectively be on their toes when dancing with the dogs Thursday.
“We need to bring energy and intensity. The last few games we’ve come out kind of — I wouldn’t say weak — but just not up to our typical selves,” Held said. “If we do that, I feel it’ll be a much better game and hopefully we can get the result.”
Fresh off a win against a less-than-impressive Gonzaga squad (7-6-1), Washington will be hoping to rack up the points against a Cal defense that has struggled as of late in order to make the jump from third to second place in the conference. The Huskies went for the Bulldogs’ jugular Friday, scoring three goals in the first 17 minutes. Elijah Rice drew first blood, tipping the game in Washington’s favor a little more than two minutes after the opening whistle.
Cal’s goalie will have to be on the lookout for another early attacking game, as both Bear goalkeepers have not put up the best numbers this season. Sophomore Jonathan Klinsmann has allowed 17 goals this season in his 11 appearances (10 starts), and freshman Drake Callender has allowed nine in five (four starts).
Fortunately for Cal, the offense has been holding its own throughout the season and should definitely put up a fight against the Huskies defense. The Bears, offensively, find themselves in the middle of the Pac-12 heading into Thursday tied with UCLA for third place on the goal-scoring leaderboard with 24. Washington only leads Cal by two for second-most goals in the conference.
The Bears are going to have to be running on all cylinders when they step on Goldman Field for the first of their last home games. If they are to have a successful last homestand, starting off on the right foot will be imperative.
Chris Tril covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].