It was the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAAs — the quality was high, and the stakes were higher as Cal men’s soccer (14-4-2, 6-3-1 in the Pac-12) took on the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (19-5-0, 9-1-0 in the Big South).
The game was a nail-biter, with Cal’s edge in territory and possession clinching the victory with a 1-0 lead for the Bears in a tough battle against their first-time opponents.
The opening stage of the match was led by Coastal Carolina, with the team winning a corner less than a minute into the game. Cal goalkeeper Alex Mangels was strong in the goal, however, and his steady hands were soon leading the Bears to a more controlled section of their game.
Once in prolonged possession, the Bears were looking comfortable but, as had been a problem before, were failing to convert possession into points. Confident in the opposition’s half, the Bears were making it into the penalty box only to lose momentum and, as a consequence, the ball. Their indecision was proving costly.
“We’ve definitely got to convert those chances,” said midfielder Alec Sundly. “Every chance you get, you’ve got to stay focused and put teams away.”
The lack of points on the board meant the Chanticleers remained firmly in the game and, as such, a threatening force. On the break, the visitors were clinical, forcing Mangels to make some stretching saves. Luckily for Cal, the goalkeeper was strong in defense, continuing his dominant trend from last week by saving all five shots.
“It was something different that we had to come out and beat, and I thought we handled it really well,” Mangels said.
Despite Cal’s edge in possession and territory, there was a real sense throughout the first half that either team could break away and score. The Bears’ lack of precision in the box and the Chanticleers’ threat on the break meant the game was highly competitive and too close to call at the half.
With a tense 45 minutes gone, the second section promised to be an exciting encounter, but the ensuing 10 minutes was marred by misplaced passing and lackadaisical play. The two teams seemed to have lost the desire that was evident in the first half, and a catalyst was needed to reignite the match.
The spark came at 64 minutes when a searing shot from Omid Jalali was just saved by the Coastal Carolina’s goalkeeper, but a waiting Sundly quickly swept up the resulting rebound into the open net. Cal’s impressive effort was finally rewarded, and the Bears were on the board. The task that remained was to hold on to this lead against an aggressive Chanticleer side.
“For me, this season has been right place, right time, so hopefully I’ll take that luck into the next game,” Sundly said.
With the newfound lead, the Bears became more confident with the ball. The previously misplaced passes now linked up, and the team looked strong in attack. The tensions of a 0-0 game were broken, and as the match opened up, the Bears were given more chances to extend their lead, but once again these opportunities went wanting as Cal strikers failed to convert.
One such example came at 76 minutes, with Christian Thierjung alone in the box against Devin Cook, the Chanticleer goalkeeper. But the one-on-one encounter led to nothing, as Thierjung gave himself too much time, and the ensuing shot was wide.
“Those are things we need to clear up in training before we go to next week,” said head coach Kevin Grimes.
With the sound of the final whistle, the Bears’ victory was confirmed, and their difficulties in finishing proved inconsequential. The competition will heat up as Cal progresses to the quarterfinals, however, and the team’s indecision, if it continues, will no doubt be punished by a No. 4 Maryland team.