When the Cal men’s soccer team meets UCLA in Westwood on Monday night, the Bears will have more than just one game at stake.
Exactly one month away from the beginning of the postseason, Cal (5-4-2, 0-2-2 Pac-12) will look to prove it can stay afloat in what has turned out to be a cutthroat year in the Pac-12. Four of the conference’s six teams either appear or receive votes in the NCAA Coaches Poll, and last Friday, the Bears gave one of the programs not on that list — San Diego State — its first conference victory. As Cal passes the midpoint of its season, it remains the only Pac-12 squad still without a conference win on its record.
“I don’t know exactly what it is,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “We had scored a bunch of goals at the beginning of the season and were scoring quite regularly. And that just hasn’t happened in this middle segment of the season.”
After averaging more than two goals per game to start off the year, the Bears have struggled to score throughout their Pac-12 schedule despite outshooting every opponent they have faced since the beginning of October. That failure to capitalize on opportunities has resulted in Cal averaging fewer than one goal per game this month and has dealt the squad a five-game winless streak that began with a loss to Santa Clara in late September.
Meanwhile, UCLA’s offense appears to be on an upswing heading into Monday night’s matchup. After suffering disappointing losses to teams such as UC Riverside in the nonconference portion of the season, the Bruins (7-6-0, 2-2-0 Pac-12) have outperformed the Bears in conference play thus far. After a narrow double-overtime loss to Oregon State earlier this month, UCLA registered wins over both Washington and San Diego State before losing to No. 3 Stanford on Friday. In each of those games, the Bruins launched at least 15 shots, and the squad currently leads the Pac-12 in goals scored per game.
“They have good attacking players,” Grimes said. “We know that when we step on the field, it’s usually a really good game with them, and you’ve got to put your best foot forward.”
That production has come, in significant part, from the feet of forward Sedi Adekoya and midfielder Jose Hernandez, who are tied for first in the Pac-12 for most goals scored, with seven each. The two also top the conference rankings in points per game, and Adekoya is ranked first in shot percentage.
To counter the Bruins’ offensive weapons, the Bears will need to rediscover the offensive efficiency they boasted earlier in the year. Unlike the majority of the opponents that Cal has faced in conference play, UCLA possesses a defense that leaves room for attack. The Bruins rank last in the Pac-12 in goals allowed, and the squad’s starting goalkeeper, Juan Cervantes, ranks last in goals-against average.
“We’d love to get our goal-scoring sharpness back,” Grimes said. “And it will come back — we just don’t know when.”
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].