The match seemed like a foregone conclusion — the unbeaten Cal men’s soccer team versus a struggling San Diego side. The win was all but written out — until it wasn’t.
Cal (10-1-2, 4-0-1 Pac 12) recorded its first loss Friday in a nonconference game that should have been a relatively easy victory. With a sloppiness that was uncharacteristic of this team, however, it let the opposition get the better of them. It was a scrappy battle, and the Bears did not seem up to the fight.
The first half was a sorry affair from the home side, with little or no attacking intent. When the Bears had the ball, they did not appear to be in control of it, with their play lacking direction and planning.
“Most of our players were below what they’ve been playing the entire season,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “We had a lot of guys just off today.”
The opening sector of the game continued in this disorganized manner, with both sides scrapping for the ball and possession changing sides quickly. There were a few glimpses of the Bears’ real capability, such as a cross from Christian Dean 30 minutes in that looked to give Cal a 1-0 lead going into the second half. But as was the fashion of the game, there was no one there to finish the play off.
The sloppy soccer from the Bears culminated at the start of the second half when a seemingly nonthreatening attack from San Diego led to a goal for the visitors. Cal goalkeeper Justin Taillole was caught off balance as the shot from the Toreros’ midfielder Connor Brandt sailed into the corner of the net.
“It just seemed like a mistake from everyone,” Taillole said. “That goal came from the effect of the team through the day. It just wasn’t our day.”
For only the third time this season, the Bears were trailing, and for the first time this season, they were unable to come back.
Despite the scoreline, the team picked up the pace after the San Diego goal and did its best to level it. Cal recorded seven shots on goal in the latter period of the game, compared with only two in the previous half. But this renewed pressure was going unrewarded, as each time the Bears pushed into the penalty box, they were coming away empty-handed.
Shortly after the Toreros scored, Cal midfielder Connor Hallisey made a great attempt at the goal, but to the crowd’s and the players’ dismay, the ball rebounded off the post. At 70 minutes, Ryan Neil made a great run in the box, but the resulting shot was just wide, and there was no Cal player on the posts to sweep the shot into the goal.
With every shot or mislaid pass, the team and the crowd’s frustrations grew — Cal had yet to lose a game, but the win was not forthcoming.
“Easily, we could have tied it and forced overtime, but it just didn’t happen today,” Grimes said.
The loss is a clear blow for Cal but one that it is looking to learn from. With its return to Pac-12 play next week, the main target is making sure it return to its winning ways.
“It’s a reality check,” said forward Stefano Bonomo. “We can’t fall into this trap again of just going through the motions. We have to be better.”