When the Cal men’s soccer team faces its next pair of Pac-12 matchups, it won’t just be the Bears’ home field that will look familiar to the fans watching from the bleachers at Edwards Stadium.
This weekend, Cal (5-3-0, 0-1-0 Pac-12) will take on No. 16 Oregon State (7-3-0, 2-0-0) and No. 17 Washington (5-2-3, 1-1-0) — two teams whose strengths echo that of No. 3 Stanford, whom the Bears fell to in a narrow 2-1 loss Sunday. Like the Cardinal, the Beavers and the Huskies possess some of the nation’s top-ranked defenses, and Cal will hope to use its strong performance against Stanford’s elite back line as a crash course for how to approach its upcoming contests.
“I think if you play poorly, you know, then you’ve got to kind of pick up the pieces,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes after Sunday’s game against Stanford. “I think you can take a game like this and forget the result and just really focus on the performance, which was quite outstanding. And then you just take that performance forward into the next game.”
The Bears will get their first chance at a Pac-12 victory Friday evening, when they face Oregon State. The Beavers currently rank 24th in the country in goals against average, with a mark of .69, and have a perfect conference record after notching wins over San Diego State and UCLA last weekend. The team’s success has been the result of a solid back line headed by defender Jalen Markey, who was named last week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week.
On Sunday, Cal will face a team with a very similar set of weapons. Washington also ranks within the top-25 in goals against average at .65, and is tied for third in the country with seven shutouts this season. The Huskies’ defense is anchored by goalkeeper Ryan Herman, who ranks 16th in the country in save percentage, and who has registered 37 saves thus far in the season.
While the defensive prowess of the Bears’ two opponents this weekend could make scoring opportunities scarce for the squad, Cal is clearly the dominant team in most offensive categories. The Bears currently rank first in the country in assists per game, and are tied for 21st in scoring offense. Meanwhile, Oregon State and Washington are tied for last in the Pac-12 in goals scored per game, and also fill the bottom two spots in assists per game.
Cal’s performance against the Cardinal could illustrate how these disparate strengths might play out on the field. Against Stanford, the Bears’ offense slightly outshot its opponent, but several good looks were stopped at the hands of Cardinal goalkeeper Andrew Epstein. Meanwhile, the Cardinal was better able to cut through the Bears’ defense, and Cal’s goalkeeper was forced to make five saves over the course of the 90 minutes. While the Huskies’ and Beavers’ offenses look less imposing than Stanford’s, if Cal hopes to come out on top this weekend, it will need to capitalize on the opportunities it does manage to create.
“There was plenty there,” Grimes said after Cal’s game against Stanford. “And that a good sign to be able to create as many chances as we did against a good team.”
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]