When the Cal men’s soccer team headed down to Southern California last weekend, it needed to pull off a win or a tie against No. 7 UCLA to boost its postseason chances.
The Bears did exactly that, tying the Bruins, 1-1, in double overtime at Drake Stadium.
But Cal’s NCAAs bubble probably popped before the Sunday night match commenced.
On Friday, the Bears (8-6-3, 2-4-2 in the Pac-12) suffered an unexpected 2-1 loss to San Diego State at the SDSU SportsDeck. The Aztecs, who were winless in seven previous Pac-12 tilts, drew first blood in the 10th minute.
While Cal leveled the match going into halftime with a goal from midfielder Omid Jalali, San Diego State’s Blake Wise scored the match-winner in the 53rd minute with a long-range shot.
Of the three remaining matches left for Cal before last weekend, the San Diego State match was by far the easiest in the schedule. For a squad that needed as many positive results as possible to prolong its season, Cal dropped an opportunity against the Aztecs, leaving a colossal black mark on its season resume.
“We played pretty well tonight and couldn’t catch a break,” Cal coach Kevin Grimes said in Friday’s post-match interview.
The Bears however caught a huge break against a superior UCLA squad on Sunday. Despite bringing the match to a tie, the Bruins outshot Cal, 28-11, and dominated the possession for all 110 minutes.
In the first half, Cal only took two shots but scored the first goal to leave Drake Stadium stunned in silence. In the 41st minute, the Bears earned one of their eight total corner kicks that translated into midfielder Alec Sundly scoring the goal.
In the scrum inside the penalty box following midfielder Seth Casiple’s corner kick cross, forward John Fitzpatrick, knocked down to the ground, tipped the ball to the top of the box where Sundly was fortunately positioned. Sundly slotted the ball past the Bruins goalkeeper for the easy score.
The Cal defensive levee that held waves of UCLA’s attacks scoreless finally gave in the equalizer to forward Reed Williams in the 53rd minute. Williams shot the ball to the far post past goalkeeper Kevin Peach to tie the match.
The Bruins relentlessly pushed forward to get the match-winner for the next 57 minutes. Marshalled by Peach, who finished the match with five saves, the Cal defense didn’t allow UCLA to convert any of the ensuing 19 shots into a goal.
The attacks from both Bears and Bruins escalated into a near frenzy in overtime. In the first five minutes of the second overtime, UCLA bombarded four shots, two of which required Peach to make dramatic saves.
But with 17 seconds left in the clock, defender Ryan Neil had the best chance for Cal to score the golden goal. With only the Bruins’ goalkeeper in front of him, Neil’s shot from a point-blank range hit the crossbar and dashed Cal from a momentous upset.
“All you can say is that it was an amazing performance by the boys and a great game to be a part of,” Grimes said in Sunday’s post-game interview.