Cal men’s soccer looks to recover form against struggling Aztecs

Ashish Samaddar/Staff

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The Cal men’s soccer team has undoubtedly struggled recently — it hasn’t won any of its last four games — and the Bears (5-3-2) will need to focus on improving one thing if they hope to turn this streak around: finishing their goal-scoring opportunities.

“It’s a matter of getting back to our goalscoring ways like we had in the first four weeks of the season,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes after Sunday’s scoreless tie against Washington.

The Bears started 5-1-0 and averaged 2.3 goals per game. Since then, Cal has gone 0-2-2 and scored only averaged goal per game. Even in these four matches, the Bears have consistently been the better team. They just haven’t been able to capitalize on their chances. Cal will hope to reverse this trend Friday, when it travels to San Diego State to face the Aztecs (5-4-2).

San Diego State will also come into the matchup on a cold streak, having lost its last three games. The Aztecs’ struggles present the Bears with an opportunity to find their form. San Diego State, however, won’t be an easy matchup for Cal, especially because the Bears haven’t won on the road yet. The Aztecs are a strong defensive team that have limited their opponents to only 8.1 shots per game and they have had nine contests where the opposition scored one goal or fewer.

Cal won’t have to look far to find how to beat San Diego State — the Aztecs lost their last game, 4-0, to UCLA. In that game, the Bruins applied constant pressure to the Aztec defense throughout the first half, but San Diego State held up, keeping UCLA scoreless.

In the second half, however, the Bruins kept attacking. They broke through, scoring their first goal in the 60th minute and then two more goals in the 62nd minute to put the game out of reach.

The Bears need to replicate the Bruins’ effort in order to win, and Cal will need to lean on redshirt sophomore midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia. He is tied for fourth in the nation in assists, with six this season, and his ability to get past, around and through defenders with the ball at his feet is unparalleled on the team.

Junior forward Christian Thierjung, Cal’s leader in goals and shots on goal with four and 17, respectively, will join Carrera-Garcia to lead the Bears’ attack. Thierjung’s play in the last few games has been emblematic of Cal’s struggles — he has played great games, often looking like the best player on the field, but the junior has struggled to put his shots into the back of the net. Sophomore forward Paul Salcedo, who has three goals this season, has also struggled during this stretch. He’s often in perfect spots to score, but he hasn’t, and Salcedo probably leads the team in shots that have hit the post.

The Bears’ last four games have hurt the team in the standings — they’re fifth out of six teams in the Pac-12 and are no longer ranked. If Cal wants to prove it’s still a contender, it needs to show that it is the caliber of team that, when it’s doing poorly, can use a struggling opponent to get itself back on track.

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