The Bears hit the road this week in a bid to extend their Pac-12 success.
An unbeaten Cal men’s soccer team (7-0-2, 1-0-1 Pac-12) continues its Pac-12 story with its first conference away game, against San Diego State (3-5-0, 0-1-0 Pac-12), on Thursday. San Diego has yet to record a win in the league, but with a contentious game against No. 5 UCLA that could have gone either way, the squad is by no means a pushover.
The Aztecs’ average record does not tell the whole story of their season. They have been unlucky so far, with a total of three games reaching overtime. Two of those were lost in the closing minutes. Their most recent Pac-12 match, against the Bruins, is an example of the potential threat this team can pose to some of the strongest in the league: They were leading UCLA 1-0 until the 75th minute.
The strength of this San Diego State team may also lie in its experience — 10 of its players are seniors, compared with the Bears’ five. It is these veterans who hold the balance of power within the team: Senior midfielder Abraham Villon leads the stats in goals scored, midfield seniors Blake Wyse and Kody Duff have the highest assist totals and senior goalkeeper Blake Hylen has recorded the most saves, with a percentage of .727.
“Having an older team is always a danger, because they know what to expect,” said Cal defender Steve Birnbaum.
Like Cal, the Aztecs appear to have had trouble finishing. They have an average of 13.6 shots per game, but their goal rate per game is just 1.75. If they can start to complete the positions they have created, however, they could be a real danger for this young Cal team.
An additional concern for the team is the location of the match, as the Bears have a less impressive away record. One of their only nonvictories came from an away draw in Pennsylvania, and their match against San Francisco was a close affair, with a late goal in the final minutes proving the decider between the two teams.
Birnbaum is aware of the danger an away game at San Diego State can pose.
“It’s always hard to play there — their field is a little different than ours,” he said.
But head coach Kevin Grimes is optimistic that the team will continue to play according to its plan, whether home or away.
“The other two away games, we played our same system and our same style,” he said. “We really don’t make too many adjustments for the opponent.”
The previous meet-up between these teams ended in a defeat for Cal on the road by a 2-1 scoreline, a shocking result, considering San Diego State’s last-place position at the time. Even in victory, the competition was fierce for the Bears last year, with a golden goal in double-overtime being the lone score in a closely contested battle.
The facts and figures may imply that Thursday’s game will be a relatively easy one for the Bears, but past experience has shown the numbers do not always equate. An experienced Aztec team at home, winless or not, is a threat Cal should not underestimate.