Cal men’s soccer eager to leave mark on non-conference schedule

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After a summer spent rueing “what could have been” in the wake of a tough playoff loss to the University of San Francisco, the Cal men’s soccer team returns to action this weekend with a new squad composed of players eager to leave their mark on the program.

The Bears open the season by hosting Detroit Mercy on Friday and Incarnate Word on Sunday, two schools Cal hasn’t had the opportunity to play against in recent memory. Regardless, head coach Kevin Grimes views both matchups as valuable opportunities to gain chemistry and prepare for a possible postseason game against a team the Bears have never played before.

“I think the exciting part of the weekend is that we’re playing two teams we haven’t faced before,” Grimes said. “It’s great to have an opportunity to play a team you haven’t faced before because these are experiences you may face in the postseason.”

Entering these two nonconference contests, Cal comes in heavily favored with more talent on the pitch. But with this being the start of a new campaign for all teams involved over the weekend and with everyone eager to get off to a hot start, the Bears will have to bring their A-game. This means being clinical in the attacking third while dominating possession throughout the game.

One facet that the Bears are hopeful to improve upon from last year is beginning games quickly. Last season, Cal tended to start slowly in the first 15 minutes and wasn’t able to recover. Coach Grimes will be looking for plenty of energy and pressure at the start of games to avoid this dilemma.

Rosterwise this year, Cal has a nice blend of experience and youth — with 12 combined freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the 24-man roster, along with a group of veterans who have played in many meaningful games, the Bears are poised to contend not only this season but also down the road.

Some of the players to keep an eye on this weekend are junior goalkeeper Drake Callender, senior forward/midfielder Sam Ebstein and senior midfielder Shinya Kadono, all of whom rank inside the preseason top 20 in the Pac-12 Conference. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how the roles of freshman defenders J.J. Foe Nuphaus and Ian Lonergan develop in the team’s nonconference schedule.

While the Bears currently sit right outside of the top 25 according to the United States Coaches Poll, the expectations remain high for the team to perform well and make a deep run in the postseason.

“It’s an exciting time for all of us players and the coaches,” Grimes said. “Whenever we get to August, the juices are flowing, the excitement is super high and we are enthusiastic. I think the expectations are that the guys will be ready to compete and put their mark on the season and on their own history of 2018.”

Praveen Kuruppu covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].