For Cal men’s soccer, this season was all about the journey.
The start of the fall campaign was characterized by stunning victories and the end by agonizing defeats. The season was bookended by Maryland matches, the first a last-minute victory and the finale a last-minute loss. Despite an almost exemplary record, Cal failed to achieve any illustrious accolades — the Pac-12 Championship and a place in the NCAA Final Four.
Last weekend, the Bears heartbreakingly fell to Maryland in the closing minutes of the Elite Eight match. That game arguably provides a perfect representation of the Bears’ season as a whole. Unbeaten in 12 games, the future was filled with promise for the Cal team, but with a nonconference loss and three conference losses that followed, the Bears were back to square one. The story was once again repeated in the NCAA where Cal was dominant until it wasn’t. With 10 minutes remaining, the Final Four was within reach, but with one false move the Bears were trailing and had no time to come back.
But week in and week out, the Bears excelled, whether they were winning or losing. Often dominant in victory, it was in defeat that Cal emphasized its commitment as a squad. When it came to these defeats, the Bears were never more than one goal away from the equalizer. The result was never a foregone conclusion because the comeback was always within reach.
The real strength of this team is in its potential. The Pac-12 and the NCAA were real and legitimate aims for the Bears and one that could have been achieved were it not for small mistakes — misplaced kicks and untaken chances. These margins meant the difference between victory and defeat, but the fact that Cal was creating these opportunities shows the team’s capability.
The conversion of these chances was the area in which the Bears had the most difficulty. It was in attack that Cal found itself failing to turn possessions into points when it mattered most.
These problems aside, Cal has had a highly successful season as shown by the successes of the players themselves. The team as a whole may not have any silverware for the cabinet, but a number of individuals have won awards, demonstrating the caliber of the squad.
Senior defender Steve Birnbaum heads the list in terms of solo achievements — reaching the semifinals in the MAC Hermann Trophy, the first team in both the NSCAA All-Far West Region and the All-Pac-12 and an All-Academic honorable mention. His fellow defender Christian Dean is close behind with a similar position on both first teams.
Midfielder Seth Casiple earned an NSCAA All-Far West third team, an All-Pac-12 second team and All-Academic second team selection. The list of accolades continues, with a total of 12 players — just short of half the team — being given one honor or another. These achievements are not just limited to the players as head coach Kevin Grimes was recently named the NSCAA Far-West Region Coach of the Year.
Cal has had a season of almosts, but this does not take away from its achievement in reaching these almosts. The Bears have ensured that they had every opportunity to prove themselves and win big. While these chances did not always materialize, Cal’s season has been one of success, and the Bears are undoubtedly one of the best soccer teams in the country.
Daniella Mogilner covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].