As the former No. 1 team in the nation and the former No.1 in the Pac-12, Cal men’s soccer had everything to prove against Stanford on Wednesday night.
The match was rich with competition in itself — Cal (12-4-2, 6-3-1 in the Pac-12) versus Stanford (13-1-4, 6-1-2), the big rivalry — but with the added pressure of a Pac-12 title on the line, the Bears were looking to dominate. This domination never came, however, as once more Cal fell to a golden goal that left the score 2-1.
The early attack came from Stanford, and this pattern continued throughout the first half. The lack of possession would soon hurt Cal, as in the 18th minute, a great run from the wing by Cardinal Jordan Morris set up an easy goal for Zach Bateer. The ball was nicely slotted into the back of the net, and Cal was on the back foot again.
In half an hour of play, the Bears recorded one shot, and that was from veteran defender Christian Dean. The attacking intent that had been so palpable in the team’s first encounter against Stanford, when Cal was still unbeaten, seemed lacking.
A number of substitutions for Cal got the team more involved in the game, but the Bears still lagged behind and never really threatened Stanford’s lead. With their only three losses of the seasons coming in their last five games, the Bears appeared to have lost their hunger — they had fallen flat.
Halftime, and the Bears were back, but whether they would bring it back remained to be seen. A Stanford handball and a chance for Alec Sundly to equalize gave the team the chance it needed, a chance it duly took, and just like that, the fight was on.
“It’s been a guessing game since Sunday with Steve out, but it seemed to work in the second half,” said Cal coach Kevin Grimes.
The Bears were making their comeback evident on both sides of the field, with a huge save from Mangels just two minutes after their successful equalizer. The shots kept on coming from Cal, with a dangerous curving ball from Seth Casiple, forcing a difficult save from Stanford goalkeeper Drew Hutchins. This was closely followed by a spearing shot from Christian Thierjung that was deflected just wide of the goal.
The tension was tangible as the two teams traded shots in the closing minutes of real time, but the attacks were unsuccessful, and the game stretched into overtime. The conclusion, once the teams returned for the final section of play, was quick, with a result achingly similar to last week’s loss. The opposition took the victory a minute into overtime, with Cardinal midfielder Aaron Kovar powering through the Cal defense to end the Bears’ hopes of Pac-12 silverware.
Despite the lost game and the lost Pac-12 Championship along with it, the Bears are still in it to win it — the NCAA, that is. With the team likely to be back to full health for its first national encounter, the Bears are by no means down and out.
“We’ll come back even stronger — mentally, we’ll be even stronger,” Sundly said.
Daniella Mogilner covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].