Cal travels across bay for season opener

Season openers always have their jitters, especially when teams are away from the comforts of their home field.

With these two forces working against the No. 7 Cal men’s soccer team this Friday evening, the Bears travel across the bridge to face the University of San Francisco at Negoesco Stadium at 7 p.m.

The disparity in the two teams’ standings — the Dons are unranked — might provide a hint towards the game’s result, but on paper the Bears’ all-time series record against USF stands at 14-21-2. Even though Cal shut out the Dons in their last four encounters, the matchup still stands a tricky test.

“USF is a strong and talented team,” junior co-captain Steven Birnbaum said. “We are just looking to play our game and get a good start to the season.”

Last year’s tilt at Goldman Field produced then-sophomore John Fitzpatrick’s game winning goal in overtime. It was then-sophomore Anthony Salciccia who found Birnbaum’s head for the assist on the last corner kick of the match. The goal gave his squad the 1-0 lead and a share of the Bay Area Classic with Stanford.

Those three lethal juniors are the only players to return to the Bears’ 11-man lineup from 2010. All posted career highs in goals, assists and points in their sophomore years and will be looking to add to their tallies. Birnbaum is the sole returning starter from the backline and is joined by Salciccia as a fellow  co-captain. The current members will have big shoes to fill after last season’s highly successful campaign saw five seniors and one junior head to Major League Soccer.

Coach Kevin Grimes will have his options open with this young team — more than half are entering their freshmen and sophomore years. The five time Pac-10 Coach of the Year, most recently awarded in 2010, also has two experienced forwards, redshirt juniors Kyle Lunt and Michael Munoz, at his disposal.

“We are confident with our team,” Birnbaum said. “All the underclassmen are very talented and will be a big part of our team this year.”

Cal has been preparing appropriately and avoiding any major injury concerns during the past month of preseason. The ultimate goal is to retain the conference championship. They are predicted to finish second, while UCLA, which claimed the second spot last season, is projected to take the title. Nonetheless, the Bears are feeling optimistic about the season opener after honing their techniques in the summer.

“We are ready for tomorrow,” junior goalkeeper Robby Gogatz said. “We just want to keep on improving, one game at a time, and build on our strengths.”

Cal will have three games remaining in the Bay Area Classic. Although the jitters of a season opener will have diminished, the Bears will still be playing in unfamiliar territory in Illinois and Connecticut. It won’t be until Sept. 16 that the club returns home to Edwards Stadium to finish off against Santa Clara.