Cal still searching for first conference win

Michael Gethers/Staff
Midfielder Kyle Marsh has played in all 14 games and started eight. He has scored two goals.

There wasn’t a better time than last weekend for the Cal men’s soccer team to get time off.

The Bears (3-7-4, 0-5-2 in the Pac-12) are seven games into the Pac-12 conference schedule. They hang in last place with no wins. They’ve only scored six goals and let in 11.

At this exact moment last year, Cal was sitting atop the league standings — with 24 goals scored and only six allowed.

The stark difference in numbers couldn’t be any more alarming. And this weekend’s games against UCLA on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and San Diego State on Sunday at 2 p.m. will be just as daunting.

The Bruins (12-4-1, 7-0) are ranked as high as No. 8 and are currently the conference leaders. They remain undefeated with seven straight Pac-12 wins.

The Aztecs (10-4-3, 4-3-0) are coming off a 3-0 loss against then-No. 19 Washington; Cal’s matinee on Sunday should be the easier of the two fixtures.

“This will be a tough battle and we know it,” junior co-captain Tony Salciccia said. “But all we want to do is play some good, entertaining soccer for the fans.”

The Bears faced both in the beginning of October and finished the road trip empty-handed. The Bruins scored a 1-0 overtime win, taking 17 shots to Cal’s six. Against San Diego State, the Bears got on the scoreboard with freshman Omid Jalali’s first career goal but gave up two second-half goals as they fell 2-1.

Cal can take comfort in returning to Edwards Stadium. Or more importantly, just returning to Northern California — the only place the Bears have won. One was a 3-2 victory over then-No. 15 Kentucky at home, which also led to the Cal Legacy Classic title. For that match in early September, Cal was also ranked No. 15. The other two were a 1-0 opener at San Francisco and a 3-0 thrashing of Vermont in Stanford on Sept. 23.

“It’s been a learning process this year,” Salciccia said. “We’ve had our promising moments but just have struggled to maintain a top, consistent level.”

Coach Kevin Grimes will have a selection headache ahead of him at goalkeeper. Redshirt freshman Kevin Peach has a 1.00 goals-against average (GAA) in four starts and performed admirably within the posts. Redshirt sophomore Robby Gogatz has six more starts than his counterpart but has a 1.62 GAA, including some glaring mishaps.

“We’re all training and competing to play,” Gogatz said. “That will ultimately raise the standard on the field, whatever the coach decides.”

The remainder of the Bears’ games are in Berkeley, with the regular-season finale against Bay Area rival Stanford fast approaching.

Cal knows playing the Cardinal will not have the same significance it had last year with the Pac-10 crown on the line, but to even reach that game with any dignity, the players need to produce soon.