Since 2002, either Cal or UCLA has come home with the Pac-12 men’s soccer title. This Sunday, the two teams meet for the first time this season in a game that could be a real indicator of the eventual league outcome.
The Pac-12 conference is heating up as the No.1 Cal men’s soccer team (7-0-2, 1-0-1 Pac-12) plays the reigning champion and preseason favorite, UCLA (6-2-1, 1-0-0 Pac-12).
UCLA is a formidable opponent, and the program’s success in the conference to date emphasizes this point. The Bruins have the record number of titles so far, with eight compared to second-place Cal’s three.
Second in goals and points for the Bears, striker Stefano Bonomo is all too aware of what Cal needs to do to beat this strong team — score goals.
The two sides are relatively equal when it comes to this crucial aspect of the game. Cal defender Steve Birnbaum and UCLA midfielder Leo Stolz are tied in points (13) and points per game (1.44) in the conference. Birnbaum just takes the edge in goals, with six compared to Stolz’s five. The Bears will hope it is this statistic that makes all the difference Sunday.
“They’ve got some clever and some tricky players in attack, and they are also a team that are good in their set pieces,” said head coach Kevin Grimes.
The defensive strength of UCLA is a large part of its game. Four opponents were unable to register a goal against the Bruins. Junior goalkeeper Earl Edwards has played every minute of the season and will no doubt be using this game experience to try to block the Cal attack.
Cal will be playing away Sunday, but if history is anything to go by, this should not be a problem for the traveling Bears. The team had a better result on the road against UCLA last season, reaching a 1-1 draw when playing in Drake Stadium while the home tie ended in a 3-1 defeat.
Grimes is concentrating on Cal’s own game plan, however, and not letting the location of the match affect this.
“We like to do what we do best and really focus on ourselves,” Grimes said.
Unbeaten so far, the Bears are looking to continue this streak and use their current form to gain the upper hand over their age-old rivals.
“We’re looking to go in there and outwork them and outprepare them, and hopefully we can pick up that W,” Grimes said.