In Sunday’s match against No. 4 UCLA, Cal coach Kevin Grimes made a decision that would prove costly. For the first half, Grimes decided to start fifth-year senior and backup keeper Robby Gogatz over starter Justin Taillole for senior day.
“He has been here five years, and he has been nothing but the consummate soldier in a backup role,” Grimes said. “One hundred percent, he deserved to play today.”
But in the 43rd minute, Gogatz was overly aggressive and came out on a scramble in the box, leaving his net wide open. UCLA (9-3-4, 4-1-3 Pac-12) capitalized with a volley goal from Kevin De La Torre, going up 1-0 right before the half.
“The game was going just fine up until they scored,” Grimes said.
The No. 1 Bears had to play catch-up the rest of the game but were unable to equalize, falling, 2-1, at Edwards Stadium. The loss is the second in three games for a Cal squad that had been perfect only nine days ago. The Bears (11-2-2, 5-1-1) must regroup for the stretch run, which will see them playing every game away from Berkeley.
From the outset, the game was played at an elite level, with both teams executing crisp passes and playing one- or two-touch soccer. Both squads were creating chances, and the record crowd was drinking it all in.
“The crowd provided that 12th-man feel — they pushed our players with all those great chances we had to score,” Grimes said. “It was a factor today.”
In the 42nd minute, the Bruins had their first golden opportunity. Off a crossing ball, UCLA rocketed a shot toward the net, but Cal defender Steve Birnbaum cleared the ball off the line to keep the score knotted up.
But in the 43rd minute, Cal’s luck ran out when De La Torre cashed in on Gogatz’s aggressive play, finally breaking the tie, 1-0.
For the second time against UCLA, the Bears allowed a goal minutes before halftime and found themselves down a goal as a result. As the team headed to the locker room, keeper Justin Taillole stayed on the field to warm up. When the whistle sounded to signal the start of the second half, the Bears had Taillole behind them in net and a full 45 minutes ahead of them to prevent the upset.
Because the Bears were scrambling to find the equalizer, they found themselves spread thin on defense with everyone forward in the 70th minute. Bruin Leo Stolz was able to find some space at the top of the box and ripped a shot to the upper-right corner that Taillole had no chance of saving. Suddenly, it was 2-0, and Cal’s hopes were dwindling.
But when the situation hit a low point, the Bears rallied. In the 72nd minute, midfielder Alec Sundly executed a spectacular bicycle kick inside the six-yard box that cut the Bruin lead to one.
“That was a world-class finish,” Grimes said. “After that, I saw new life in the team.”
In the waning seconds, the Bears frantically searched for the equalizer. As the clock hit zero, the Bears had one last shot that sailed wide, and the upset was complete. When the final whistle blew, the Pac-12 and the national landscape was dramatically altered as the Bears’ players fell to the ground, defeated.
“I am bummed we couldn’t win for the seniors,” Birnbaum said. “It’s disappointing; that’s why some of us fell to the floor. We pushed it, and we had chances — we just couldn’t put them away.”
Austin Crochetiere covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].