Cal heads home from San Francisco with season-opening victory over Dons

Servando Carrasco
Anna Vignet/File

The Cal men’s soccer team experienced déjà vu in its season opener — but not the monotonous kind.

Forward John Fitzpatrick found the back of the net to give the No. 7 Bears a 1-0 victory against the University of San Francisco during Friday’s match. Last year’s encounter posted the same result with Fitzpatrick proving decisive as well.

Cal was imposing from the start of the match, and with a little over 20 minutes of play gone, the lone goal of the match came from Fitzpatrick’s head.

“It feels great,” Fitzpatrick said. “(Tony) Salciccia played a great ball and I was just fortunate enough to get a head on it.”

Last time around, it was Salciccia, the junior midfielder, who was involved in the pivotal moment, too. He provided the corner to Birbaum’s head — which led to Fitzpatrick’s winning finish.

“Salciccia plays a great ball,” Fitzpatrick said. “Last year with the corner, and now in this game, he beat his defender and whipped it far post.”

Minutes before the goal, there was a heated scramble for a 50-50 ball between Salciccia and USF’s Diaz De Leon. Both received yellow cards, but the  co-captain redeemed himself with the assist that handed the Bears’ their first goal of the 2011 season.

USF had to deal with the threats of Salciccia and Fitzpatrick for the full 90 minutes. Not even the full capacity crowd under the lights at Negoesco Stadium in San Francisco could help the unranked Dons (0-1), who registered the loss.

“This is not an easy place to play,” coach Kevin Grimes said. “The older guys are used to this, and it was great for the younger guys to experience a big crowd.”

It seemed to be a battle of youth on the foggy Friday night, with both Cal and USF including a large number of underclassmen on the pitch.

The Dons’ roster featured eight returning starters from their 2010 team, while the Bears experimented with eight new starters. Grimes inserted two true freshmen — defender Christian Dean and midfielder Seth Casiple — into the starting lineup.

“That’s a great way to start your college career,” Grimes said. “All the young guys did exceptionally well.

Cal held strong through the second half with the shutout, thanks to junior goalkeeper Robby Gogatz’s three saves.

Both teams posted four shots before the intermission, but the Bears edged their Bay Area rivals by the final whistle with 12 shots to USF’s 10. Cal also held a six to three advantage in shots on target.

The stats may suggest that the score should have been greater for the Bears, but the squad was just happy to have conquered its early season jitters and secure the win in the first leg of the Bay Area Classic.

“We were all pushing forward and this is what we wanted as we really start to progress into the season,” Fitzpatrick said.

A previous caption accompanying the photograph for this article incorrectly identified the featured player as Tony Salciccia. In fact, it was Servando Carrasco.