In soccer, the most vulnerable times for any team are the first and the last five minutes of each half.
In the beginning of each half, a team still adjusting to the pace of the match is vulnerable to an early goal by the opposing team. In the final minutes of the half, a team is more likely to make mental lapses due to fatigue.
And in the Cal men’s soccer team’s 5-0 home manhandling of Houston Baptist on Tuesday, the Huskies lost control, conceding two goals in the last two minutes of the first half.
The Huskies (2-4) were hanging on with the Bears for the first 43 minutes, defending against the incessant waves of the Cal offense.
Houston Baptist never looked comfortable, always pushed back to defend as the Bears (3-2) bombarded the penalty box with crosses and corner kicks.
The Huskies took nine shots in the first half, but none of them struck fear into the hearts of the Cal defense and starting goalkeeper Kevin Peach. Nearly all the shots were feeble attempts from outside the penalty box.
“We had them on their heels the whole time,” midfielder Kyle Marsh said. “We kept the ball a lot of times. When you have the ball at the opposing half, the defenders get tired.”
One mental lapse later, the Huskies entered halftime down 2-0.
In the middle of Cal’s one-two passing charade that dazzled the Houston Baptist defense, Cal midfielder Tony Salciccia squeezed through the line and scored the first goal of the game with 83 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Huskies couldn’t get their act together for another 83 seconds.
Forward Luis Fuentes found open space behind the line and easily scored the second Bears goal with 10 seconds remaining on the clock.
Whatever pep talk Houston Baptist must have had during halftime didn’t produce any turnarounds. Cal came back in the second half, continuing its first-half momentum. With every minute, Houston Baptist’s defensive levee looked more ready to burst.
In the 49th minute, forward John Fitzpatrick headed in his first goal of the season through goalkeeper Kevin Suarez’s hands.
Eleven minutes later, midfielder Seth Casiple scored from a low cross from forward Michael Munoz for the fourth Bears goal.
In the 70th minute, Marsh topped the scoring spree with a swerved goal from outside the penalty box that left Suarez frozen at his spot.
By then, most of the Cal starters were on the bench. In the 68th minute, head coach Kevin Grimes pulled out Peach for backup Robby Gogatz.
Second-team players like defenders Steve Birnbaum and Christopher Rawji and midfielder Tyler Simkins made their season debut.
It was an offensive free-for-all for the Bears for the last 20 minutes of the match.
The attackers sprinted down the field at will, breezing past a demoralized Husky defense to take a souvenir shot.
Despite taking around half a dozen shots in the last 10 minutes, Cal couldn’t score a single goal.
At the end of the match, the Bears outshot Houston Baptist, 25-13. Cal earned 11 corner kicks compared to the Huskies’ four, thanks to its nonstop crosses coming from both wings.
At the end of the game, Grimes praised Houston Baptist’s efforts. The Huskies have been on the road for the past two weeks, and they struggled adjusting to the Californian elements.
He likened the Huskies’ tribulations on Tuesday with Cal’s crushing 6-0 loss to Maryland two weeks ago.
“If anybody knows what it feels like to lose by a lopsided score, we certainly do,” Grimes said. “Houston Baptist, like us, will become a better team after this weekend.”
Seung Y. Lee covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]