Cal hopes for repeat against Stanford

Carli Baker/File
The Cal defense gives up 1.56 goals per game on average.

What’s better than beating Stanford? Beating Stanford in overtime and winning the Pac-10 title.

But that was last year.

Since that match, the Cal men’s soccer team has had six of its players head to the MLS.

And the 2011 season is proving to be a season of rebuilding for the team.

With only one true senior — who is redshirting this season — and the addition of 10 new freshmen on the roster, Cal has had a rocky start to the campaign.

“We are pushing ourselves more and more every day,” junior co-captain Steven Birnbaum said. “We know there is still work to be done, but the passion is there and I can see it.”

The squad (3-4-2) faces off against the Cardinal (3-6-1) on Sunday at 6 p.m at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium in Stanford.

Although the Bears’ travels won’t be too far away from home this weekend, they have been especially woeful away from Edwards Stadium. Last weekend, they opened Pac-12 play at UCLA with a 1-0 overtime defeat. Their second match at San Diego State provided another setback with the 2-1 loss.

“It was a tough ride home,” junior forward John Fitzpatrick said. “But we are about tackling our issues head on and making sure we improve.”

Despite returning back from their Southern California trip empty handed, the Bears still produced some notable moments. Freshman Omid Jalali scored his first collegiate goal, the only goal the Cal offense could muster in both games. Freshmen midfielder Seth Casiple has been performing admirably, as he leads the team with six assists.

The Bears can also revel in the fact that Stanford’s performances haven’t been very fruitful, either. They are coming off a two-game losing streak against both UCLA and San Diego State as well, but more alarmingly the Cardinal have failed to score a goal since Sept. 25.

“This will be an exciting rivalry match like it usually is,” junior co-captain Anthony Salciccia said. “It will be a good test for us, I have faith.”

Cal is desperate to find that on-the-field team chemistry that made it successful in the past.

But that only comes with time, and coach Kevin Grimes’ team philosophy is very fitting for the club’s upcoming fixture, the sole game of the weekend.

“We have this one game now, and that’s how we approach it,” Birnbaum said. “We focus to win and to become stronger as a unit.”

The Bears are scheduled to meet Stanford again for the final game of the season in November. Although fans will want to experience a similar dramatic finish to the conference title battle, the Bears know that it will take all the steps in between to reach the top and stay competitive.

“We can handle the pressure,” Salciccia said. “Doing well in Sunday’s match will be key for us now and in the future.”