No. 37 Cal men’s soccer faces Davidson at home

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The mere mention of Davidson recalls historic upsets led by former Wildcat and current Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry. But on Friday, the Cal men’s soccer team will look to avoid getting upset when it plays the Wildcats in what should be a David — or Davidson — vs. Goliath-type matchup.

The game will be the fourth straight home match for the No. 37 Bears (3-1-0), who won the previous three fairly comfortably by a combined score of 8-2. As Cal looks to extend its winning streak, it will have to take down a Wildcats (2-1-2) team that has struggled of late, including getting blown out, 4-0, in its last road game against Elon.

Davidson, however, should not be overlooked, because it may be tougher than it seems to be at first glance. The Wildcats’ goalkeeper, senior Matt Pacifici, is considered one of the best at his position in school history, and he set a school record for goals-against average last season with .65 per game. While Pacifici’s performance in the net has dropped off a bit this season — he has allowed 1.52 goals per game this year — he is undoubtedly a puzzle the Bears’ offense must solve.

Cal will likely get many chances to break through against Pacifici, however, because Davidson’s defense has struggled to keep opponents away from clean scoring chances. The Wildcats have allowed almost 15 shots per game and more than six shots on goal per game — numbers they cannot afford to give up to an offense of Cal’s caliber — and the Bears have registered a solid two goals per game.

Cal has had seven players score its eight goals this season, and the Bears’ depth will make it difficult for Davidson to focus on certain Bears in an attempt to stifle their offense. If the Wildcats concentrate on stopping Cal’s leading goalscorer — sophomore forward Paul Salcedo — then junior forward Christian Thierjung or redshirt sophomore midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia could easily find the back of the net instead. And even if Pacifici and Davidson can shut down all of these threats, the Bears are a talented passing team, with 11 assists this season, and they are adept at putting even unexpected players in positions to score, illustrated by the two freshmen and one defender who have scored early in the season.

Because the Wildcats’ defense looks like it could struggle, even with Pacifici, the team will need to step up on offense against a young but improving Cal defense. This could be challenging, as Davidson’s leading goalscorer from last season, Alan Reiter, graduated and the Wildcats have struggled to make up for his absence thus far, scoring only 1.4 goals per game and firing off only 10.4 shots per game. The Bears, whose goalkeeper — redshirt senior Alex Mangels — has had a surprisingly strong season after struggling last year, will be happy to keep Davidson’s offense limited to its averages. If Cal, which has allowed slightly more than one goal per game, can at least do that, then the Bears can be expected to win on the strength of their offense.

With advantages on both sides of the field, Cal will be favored to pull out a win at home and prove that its status as the Goliath in this matchup is well deserved. And if the Bears do that, they could find themselves propelled into the nation’s top-25 teams, where they began the season.

Hooman Yazdanian covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian.