No. 1 Cal men’s soccer hosts upstart San Diego State

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The Cal men’s soccer, unbeaten for 12 games, came undone last week, and with this first loss comes a new first for the Bears — their first chance at a recovery.

After this defeat, Cal (10-1-2, 4-0-1 Pac 12) has it all to prove this week in its second Pac-12 conference game against San Diego State (5-8-1, 2-4-1 Pac 12) on Friday.

“It’s about how we bounce back,” said midfielder Connor Hallisey. “We’ve got to show them how we’re ready to play and that we’re still the No. 1 one team in the nation.”

The loss last week can, however, be seen as somewhat of a relief for the top-ranked Bears. The expectation of an unbeaten season and the buildup of pressure was released with their defeat against San Diego. Cal can now concentrate on winning games rather than playing not to lose.

“When you go so many weeks in a row undefeated, it wears on you mentally and emotionally,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “You start thinking about your record rather than just the love of the game.”

With this renewed passion, Cal looks to build on its previous performance. The Bears have already gotten the better of the Aztecs once — when the teams played Oct. 10 in San Diego, Cal came away with a storming late winner to take the match, 2-1, in the 78th minute. With the upcoming game taking place at home, it should give the Bears a real chance to get back on their feet and return to their winning ways.

“It’s going to be hard, but we want to dominate,” said defender Christian Dean.

While the Aztecs appear less than threatening on paper, the play-by-plays behind their games tell a different story. A number of their matches have been close calls — as happened with the Bears.

The main threat of San Diego State lies in its attacking play, both in coming through from midfield and in the quality of its strikers. Aztec senior forward Jordan Ongaro leads the Pac-12 in goals with six and an average of 0.86 goals per game. His fellow senior forward Abraham Villion is also high-ranked in the Pac-12 statistics with 17 points, placing him tied in the second position with Cal defender Steve Birnbaum.

“They’re a possession-style team, they like to keep the ball and they have some tricky players and they’re dangerous going forward,” Hallisey said. “We can’t let them play through us.”

San Diego State has a variety of skilled players at its disposal, and against a team that boasts 10 seniors, Cal is careful not to write them off — especially when considering the Bears’ previous upset against a San Diego side.

The Bears are no longer unbeaten, but they are still No. 1, and in order to maintain this poll position, they need to find their focus once more. Last week was a lapse in concentration — and one the Bears hope will never happen again.

“That was a bump in the road, but we’re going to come out and not want to lose ever again,” Dean said. “We’re going to come out angry.”

Daniella Mogilner covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].