Cal men’s soccer coach Kevin Grimes is a person that likes to keep his cards close to his chest. For the sake of safeguarding information, very few tidbits — like starting rotations or results of preseason exhibitions — are ever leaked by Grimes and his players.
So when asked questions about Friday’s 7 p.m. season opener at Santa Clara — an opponent the Bears have played every year since 1999 — Grimes had little to share of his team and the Broncos.
“No one’s played a real game yet,” Grimes said. “Both sides will be experimenting with their sides. I’m pretty sure Santa Clara doesn’t know much about us too.”
From the goalkeeper to the striker position, very few starters have been set in stone for Cal. The Bears underwent several massive shake-ups and youth revolutions in its starting eleven through the course of last year’s abysmal 3-9-5 season, and the tactical changes have not yet ceased.
The most notable toss-up in starting positions is at the goal. Robby Gogatz and Kevin Peach were platooned back and forth through the year, both recording average seasons at near-equivalent levels. Whether Grimes chooses the shorter yet more reflexive Gogatz or the 6’6’’ giant Peach is still shrouded with only two days remaining from the opener.
The uncertainty of the goalkeeper position will likely be a storyline to follow for a whole another year, and the starting goalkeeper-to-be-named will be faced with a big challenge from the Broncos.
Santa Clara senior striker Erik Hurtado, who is considered one of the best forwards on the west coast, will be the main threat to Cal’s chances of victory. A two-time WCC First Team player, Hurtado is a short, explosive player who scored a conference-high six goals last season.
While the goalkeeper situation for the Bears is the most unstable position, the defensive line is the most solidified core of the team. This experienced backline will welcome the return of senior Ted Jones, who had to redshirt last year for personal reasons.
“I really don’t want to be scored (against Santa Clara),” Jones said. “The defense will all have to keep the team cohesive through the game.”
As the threat of Hurtado looms at all times, the Bears will need to manufacture some goals of their own to give their defense some breathing space. Senior forward John Fitzpatrick will be the obvious striker to look out for, as all eyes throughout the season will be focused on whether he can replicate his team-high five-goal season.
But the question lingering behind the big 6’1’’ Fitzpatrick is whether any other striker can fill his shoes when Fitzpatrick is substituted or shut down by the defense. Fellow seniors like Michael Munoz and Kyle Lunt will be relied on to net the necessary goals.
Yet the main man in the countdown to the opener is still Kevin Grimes, the coach and media puppeteer of the program. Until both teams step onto the field on Friday night, this Cal team will be locked up in silence like a Pandora’s box.