Until last weekend, the Cal men’s soccer team had been looking like a child stuck in a corn maze: unable to find its way out. For every step the team took forward, they reached a dead end the next week, producing shots but unable to convert goals, resulting in a compilation of tough-to-take losses.
The Bears, however, turned an important corner last weekend when they recorded a win against Portland in double overtime. The Pilots, shutting out teams such as Fairfield and Cal State Fullerton and scoring more than 5 goals, were a seemingly problematic opponent for the Bears, who have struggled with finishing over the past season.
Those who thought that Jonathan Klinsmann’s cleats couldn’t be filled are apparently incorrect. After his impressive nine saves in Oregon, sophomore goalkeeper Drake Callender was named Pac-12 Player of the Week.
With the energy gathered from their win last week, the Bears are primed for a two-game weekend where they will be hosting Yale at home Friday and then moving to San Francisco to face USF on Sunday.
Yale is a foreign competitor for Cal, as the Bears haven’t faced the Bulldogs in almost 20 years.
You don’t, however, need to know much about the team to see that Yale generates a lot of offensive action.
The Bulldogs averaged 16.7 shots per game in their first three matches before a poor outing against Vermont. That early number healthily trumps Cal’s season average of 13.25. As the Bears have learned, however, number of shots does not necessarily correlate to goals scored or wins recorded.
In order to mitigate the number of shots Yale tallies, Cal will have to focus on side-to-side ball movement, rather than up and down the field — both to tire the Bulldogs and to minimize chances of an error in the defensive third.
“(The Bulldogs) got a similar start to us where they are playing well and maybe haven’t gotten as many chances to score as they would like,” Cal head coach Kevin Grimes said. “It’s early in the season, and teams are still working out their kinks right now.”
Since their season began on August 26, USF has lost 5 of their 6 matches to competitors that the Bears are scheduled to face before the end of the season including UCLA, UC Davis and San Diego State. While Cal should approach the game with confidence, they also need to treat each game as if it were an opportunity to practice for conference matches to begin within the next couple weeks.
“(The Dons) probably do have some newer players coming into the program. We haven’t really begun to research them quite yet,” Grimes said. “We just try to stay with the opponent right in front of us, because your information can get cross-wired if you are looking at two teams at once.”
To be successful this weekend, the Bears will have to channel the energy and drive with which they played the game against Portland. And, if the Bears solidify two wins this weekend, they will have cleared a path to exit the maze in games to come.
Lucy Schaefer covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]