With fall weather finally winding its way through campus and signalling the impending end to September’s nonconference schedule, the No. 20 Cal men’s soccer team knows that Pac-12 competition lies just around the corner.
But while many await the arrival of No. 3 Stanford to kick off the Bears’ conference season next week, Cal will first face a different South Bay opponent. On Friday, the Bears (5-1-0) are set to take on Santa Clara (3-5-0) at Stevens Stadium — marking Cal’s final out-of-conference matchup. The game will also present the Bears with their first away match since a 3-0 loss to San Diego to start off their 2015 campaign.
Ever since that initial stumble, Cal has been dominant, taking home five victories in just as many games at Goldman Field. And after last weekend’s commanding performances against Davidson and San Francisco, the squad has climbed its way back to the top 25 after falling off in the week following its loss to the Toreros.
“(In the) San Diego game, we came out a little bit slow,” said forward Paul Salcedo. “We didn’t have that drive, that hunger, and I think that loss we suffered against San Diego really woke us up and really drove to be hungrier — that’s probably the biggest improvement that we’ve had.”
Part of Cal’s success can be attributed to an improving offense led by several players who have emerged as particularly crucial playmakers. Salcedo and forward Christian Thierjung lead Cal in goals this season with three and four, respectively. And while the Bears are averaging just under a full goal less this year than it was at this point last season, the squad has proven that it can still produce after the loss of many of last year’s most prolific scorers. Currently, Cal is tied for first in the Pac-12 for most goals scored.
While Thierjung and Salcedo each notched four goals or more last season, a more unexpected highlight of the Bears’ offense this year has been the contribution from midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia. The redshirt sophomore, who has already matched his goal total from last year with two, played a key role in five out of the Bears’ six scoring plays this past weekend. He now leads the team in assists, and was named last week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week.
“He’s an outstanding two-way player because he also disrupts a lot of flow of the opponent and he’s a very good defender,” said head coach Kevin Grimes.
While not yet tested against a ranked opponent, Cal’s defense has also fared well thus far in the season, keeping opponents to an average of one goal per game. This may be due to the extra year of experience held by the sophomore-heavy roster in the back. Last year, the Bears’ young defense finished last in the Pac-12 with 1.95 goals per game allowed.
Meanwhile, though Santa Clara has played a cutthroat schedule against teams such as No. 15 Wake Forest and No. 2 North Carolina, they have consistently struggled against the offenses of their nonconference opponents. Overall this season, Santa Clara has scored just six goals, and none against ranked opponents. This weekend, the Bears will look to continue to hinder the Broncos’ production, proving that they belong among this group of elite contenders.
Dani Jo Coony covers women’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]