Cal junior forward Christian Thierjung collects the pass at midfield. His first touch gets him past the defense and into open field. It’s only the 12th minute but the tension in the air is palpable. Thierjung streaks downfield, the orange on his shoes mixing with the orange on the ball to form a single bright blur. Only Washington’s goalie, Ryan Herman, stands between Thierjung and the back of the net.
Thierjung reaches the box, still uncontested, and fires a shot, but Herman dives at the perfect time to get the save. The Bears’ sophomore forward Paul Salcedo gets a follow up opportunity on the rebound. It goes inches over the post. No goal.
In many ways, this sequence was indicative of the weekend for Cal men’s soccer, as the Bears twice came excruciatingly close to winning. Cal (5-3-2) outplayed No. 16 Oregon State (7-4-1) on Friday, but the match ended in a 2-2 draw, while Sunday’s game against the No. 17 Huskies (5-2-5) was no different, ending in a scoreless tie.
“These two draws feel like losses for us,” said sophomore defender Joshua Morton. “We feel that we were better than both of these teams. We played better.”
The Bears dominated the majority of Friday’s game after the Beavers got out to an early 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute. Cal freshman forward Spencer Held came on as a substitute in the first half and immediately made a mark. He finished freshman midfielder Samuel Ebstein’s cross to tie the game in the 35th minute and, in the process, scored the first goal of his college career.
“It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had this season,” Held said. “Today’s the first time that I’ve felt like a real player again.”
In the 43rd minute, it was Ebstein’s turn to score. Passes from freshman midfielder Shinya Kadono and redshirt sophomore midfielder Tommy Padia found Ebstein wide open, and he converted to put the Bears up, 2-1. Cal’s offense continued its relentless attack but the defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The ball was stolen from Morton by Oregon State sophomore forward Jordan Jones in the 61st minute. Jones broke away into a one-on-one against redshirt senior goalkeeper Alex Mangels. Jones fired a shot past the diving Mangels to tie the game.
Cal’s best chance to break the tie came in the 71st minute, when Salcedo stepped up to take a free kick just outside the box. He blasted the shot into a wall of Beaver defenders, but recovered his own rebound. Salcedo quickly turned around and launched a shot, but it careened off the top crossbar and out of danger.
On Sunday, Cal once again failed to take advantage of its opportunities, especially at the very end of the game. In the second sudden-death overtime period against Washington, the Bears came within inches of putting a goal on the scoreboard and ending the game. A Cal corner kick in the 107th minute went to junior defender Nick Lima at the top of the box. Lima turned around and took a shot that looked to be a sure goal before Herman saved the day yet again with a fingertip save. Held got another chance with 15 seconds left, but his shot floated just above the post.
Cal dedicated Sunday to former player Eloi Vasquez, who passed away in March. Cal retired Vasquez’s jersey, the first time it has done so in program history. It was evident from the start that this game took on an added meaning for the Bears.
“I think the players wanted to win the game for Eloi and his family. They played like Eloi,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “They played with a lot of passion and heart. They played very similar to how Eloi left his mark on us. Regardless of the result, the guys wore their heart on their sleeves, and that’s what matters.”