Bears eager for taste of home after fruitless road trip

This weekend will be a weekend of firsts for the Cal men’s soccer team.

Friday’s match against Lehigh marks the first home game for the Bears after trips to the Midwest and East Coast, and is also the first time the two squads have ever met. Sunday’s game against Kentucky will likewise be the first encounter between the teams.

The contests are all part of the Cal Legacy Classic, which also features games between the two visitors and Stanford. After a tough weekend away, the Bears will be happy to return home to host their portion of the event at Edwards Stadium.

“It’s going to be great to be back at Goldman Field,” junior co-captain Steve Birnbaum said. “We’re excited to have the fans supporting us as we look for those wins this weekend.”

Lehigh and Cal come into Friday’s face off at 4 p.m. with a identical 1-1-1 records. The trip to California is Lehigh’s first in program history, which will be an additional challenge for the unranked Mountain Hawks.

No. 15 Kentucky’s match-up at 2 p.m. on Sunday will likely be the more difficult of the two for the Bears; the Wildcats stand undefeated so far this season with three wins and one draw. Kentucky already played this past Tuesday,  a 4-2 home win over IPFW, so their three games on short rest might prove to be an inconvenience the Bears will want to take advantage of.

Last year’s Cal Legacy Classic saw the Bears split their two games over the course of the weekend. The teams were different, however, as the tournament included Saint Mary’s, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Stanford and UNLV. Cal beat UNLV 3-0, but lost to Saint Mary’s from a 2-1 golden goal in overtime. Sacramento State took home the title in 2010.Not only have the teams present changed, but so have the line-ups, particularly for the Bears.

“The young guys have really stepped up and given us that depth that we need this time around,” Birnbaum said.

The Bears started their season at San Francisco with a 1-0 win, courtesy of junior forward John Fitzpatrick’s game-winner. But last weekend’s travels to Illinois and Connecticut left them empty handed. Cal finished the weekend with a 0-0 tie against Northwestern and 4-1 loss to then No. 4 UConn.

The Bears’ lone goal of that weekend came from junior forward Michael Munoz. He and Fitzpatrick now lead the team with two points apiece, and Fitzpatrick is tied for second in the Pac-12 conference with his game-winning goal. In the net, junior goalkeeper Robby Gogatz has played every minute of the season, and his saves and shutout percentage all rank him in the conference’s top three.

“Robby has been solid back there,” Fitzpatrick said. “It definitely makes our job easier with the pressure that he takes off of us.”