The Cal men’s soccer team may not have scored early, but it did score often in its two games this weekend, both of which the Bears won with ease.
Cal (2-1-0), which played VCU on Friday and Northeastern on Sunday, beat the teams by a combined score of 6-1. The Bears never trailed in either game.
In Cal’s first match of the weekend, against VCU, the Bears successfully grabbed their first victory of the season. Cal’s offense excelled at maintaining possession with crisp passes and dribbles, but the Rams’ stellar defense held up well in the first half. While the Bears often found themselves in situations where a couple more passes or dribbles would have given them a clear shot at the goal, VCU repeatedly stopped them from getting on the scoreboard. The Bears looked to be in danger of being held scoreless for the second game in a row — they had lost to San Diego, 3-0, in the season opener.
But in the 41st minute, Cal broke through, as junior forward Christian Thierjung found fellow junior Nick Lima with a through ball. Lima fired from just outside the box, and his shot whizzed past the goalie, hitting the post on its way into the back of the net. His goal was the team’s first of the game and season, but the Bears were not satisfied yet.
The second half was defined by an impressive onslaught from Cal’s offense: The team put up 10 shots, five of which were on goal. VCU goalie Pierre Gardan managed to stop a few of the major threats, but the Bears would not be denied, adding on two more goals by the 62nd minute. Thierjung again assisted on the first of these goals when he fed sophomore Paul Salcedo on a counter. The third goal came courtesy of redshirt sophomore midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia, who smashed a shot over Gardan toward the far post and into the goal. The Rams tacked on a goal in the 67th minute to make the score a respectable 3-1.
Cal outplayed Northeastern (0-2-1) to an even greater degree, with the Bears dominating the Huskies, 3-0. The parts of Cal’s offensive machine were again humming in unison, and it showed early. The Bears nearly scored in the 10th minute, until Northeastern’s goalie, Dylan Faber, stepped in the way.
Cal went right at Faber again, as two great passes set up freshman Samuel Ebstein with a shot in the 17th minute. Faber rushed out to meet Ebstein, but the freshman would not be shaken, as he scored the first goal of his collegiate career. In the 28th minute, Cal’s exceptional passing paid off yet again. A great cross from freshman Sam Junqua found Salcedo in the box, and he laid it off for Thierjung, who scored his first goal of the season.
From then on, the Bears focused on keeping the Huskies off the scoreboard. The Bears’ recorded a clean sheet, led by redshirt senior goalkeeper Alex Mangels’ five saves. While Cal’s defense kept the Huskies at bay, the Bears managed to tack on another goal in the 82nd minute. It came mostly on the strength of Carrera-Garcia, who displayed some exceptional ability with the ball at his feet. He pushed the ball downfield, past the defense, before finding Salcedo, who scored his second goal of the weekend.
The Bears’ combination of strong defense and relentless offense this weekend was impressive and something they should look to carry on to future games as Cal nears its difficult Pac-12 slate of games. If the team continues to play at this level, the Bears could find themselves right back where they were at the end of last season: the NCAA tournament.