The Cal men’s soccer team will look to prove that it is still a force to be reckoned with by winning its third game in a row Friday — despite the loss of its best players from last season, Stefano Bonomo and Connor Hallisey — when the Bears (2-1-0) take on UC Davis (1-3-0) at Edwards Stadium.
“We, in general, are just trying to get the attack going more soundly and more precisely … just making sure that all of our defending, positioning and principles are all in place,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “Throughout the season, those things never end. You keep building on them week by week. I think both sides of the ball, we’re really trying to take a step up on.”
The Bears have played the Aggies four times and have won every meeting, including the last meeting in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, 2-1. To extend its dominance over UC Davis, Cal will need to focus primarily on taking advantage of the Aggies’ limited defense. Davis has given up a troubling 3.25 goals per game so far, and the Bears will be aiming to make that number uglier. Their offensive efforts will be led by junior forward Christian Thierjung, who was directly involved in four of his team’s six goals, and sophomore forward Paul Salcedo, who leads the team with two goals.
Cal will need to take advantage of its prolific offense — which was first in the nation in scoring last year — if it hopes to secure the win against UC Davis, which has an impressive offense of its own.
The Aggies have been very active on that side of the ball this season and are second in the Big West with 13.75 shots per game. Though many of these shots have not found the back of the net, Davis, in its most recent game against Wisconsin, proved what its offense can do when the ball bounces its way. The Aggies scored three goals in the first half against the Badgers and put the game out of reach before the 40th minute, showing that the Davis offense can be an explosive one.
“Hopefully, my defense can block many shots and take away the scoring chances before they get to me,” said Cal redshirt senior goalkeeper Alex Mangels. “A clean sheet is the goal. If I can keep the team from scoring, then I’ve done my job, and we can’t lose.”
Mangels, the only senior on the Bears’ roster, will have to lead his young defense if Cal hopes to come out with a win. The inexperience of the backline has shown at points this season, with sophomore defender Joshua Morton picking up a red card in the team’s first game and with Mangels occasionally left to clean up after the defense’s mistakes. He’s proved to be up to the task thus far with 10 saves and a shutout, but Mangels did struggle for large portions of last season, so leaving him to fend off the attack on his own is not a viable strategy.
Mangels and the Cal defense will have to key in on Davis seniors Ryan Gross and Matt Wiesenfarth. Gross, who was one of the players to score against Wisconsin, is 10th all time on the school’s Division I career points list. Wiesenfarth hasn’t scored yet this year, but that makes him no less of a threat. He leads the team with 10 shots this season and is tied for third on the school’s list of goal leaders at the Division I level.
“They’ve got a real good attacking group. They’ve got players that can score goals in different ways,” Grimes said. “They’re going to be as strong as any opponent we’ve played this year.”