Although the Cal men’s soccer team’s postseason run was cut short disappointingly early last year, with the team being eliminated in the Sweet 16, the Bears’ prospects for this upcoming season are soaring because of the emergence of forward Christian Thierjung, a rising junior, who contributed significantly to the team in an expanded role this past season.
The Bears will look to Thierjung to help fill the void left by departing seniors midfielder Connor Hallisey and forward Stefano Bonomo: two leaders who were central to the team’s successes last season. Thierjung played exclusively as a substitute during his freshman year but showcased a knack for performing in clutch situations, as his only two goals of the season were of the game-winning variety.
He scored a game-winning goal against San Diego State in the 80th minute and against USF with 19 seconds remaining in regulation time, making the most of his limited opportunities as a substitute player during the program’s very successful 2013-14 campaign.
As Thierjung’s sophomore season progressed, he saw his role expand, and he managed to finally break into the starting lineup with 15 starts. Thierjung accumulated 16 points and seven goals last season, both ranked third on the team, and he added two assists as well. With more playing time, Thierjung shone as a consistent contributor to the team and received accolades with an honorable-mention nod for the All-Pac-12 Team.
“Last season, (Thierjung) was definitely a very effective player in multiple positions … and (when) he played, he was extremely effective and always put opponents on their back foot,” said Cal men’s soccer head coach Kevin Grimes.
With the team reeling from disappointing road losses against Washington and Oregon to open up Pac-12 play, the Bears were sent to overtime against then-No. 2 UCLA after the Bruins scored two goals in the final four minutes to tie the game at 2-2. Cal recovered quickly, however, as Thierjung was able to maneuver past two defenders to send the ball past the outstretched arms of UCLA’s goalkeeper and into the net to give the Bears a scintillating 3-2 overtime victory.
In a broader context, Thierjung’s coolness during adversity and knack for delivering in critical moments offer optimism about his potential to shine in a larger role next season. Thierjung will be expected to shoulder some of the load of some high-profile seniors’ departures. Hallisey led the team with 30 points off nine goals and 12 assists in 19 starts. Bonomo closely followed Hallisey with 29 points off a team-high 12 goals and five assists. The two veteran leaders for the team have left some big shoes to fill, but Thierjung appears poised to rise to the occasion.
“(The team) expects a natural progression of growth (from Thierjung),” Grimes said. “Because he’s played so much his first two years, he’s in a great position to have another good season.”
After a year in which the Bears fell back to Earth, the team will rely on Thierjung and the team’s other emerging veterans to propel Cal soccer back to the exceptional heights of the 2013-14 campaign.
Shiktij Dave is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].