San Diego State forward Rene Reyes steps up to the line to take his penalty kick. His team is trying to hold on to its 1-0 lead in the 70th minute, while Cal has been attacking relentlessly for the last 25 minutes and appears to be on the brink of tying things up. Reyes stands there, 12 yards away from effectively ending the game. He runs up and kicks the ball to his left. He looks up, and it’s clearly going to be on goal. It just needs to get past the keeper. But Cal goalie Alex Mangels perfectly times his dive and knocks Reyes’ shot away, out of the box. The Bears are still in it for now.
This moment was easily the highlight of Cal’s (5-4-2, 0-2-2 Pac-12) game Friday. But that’s a problem, because it means the Bears never scored. They were never able to take advantage of their opportunities to tie the game and ended up losing, 1-0, to the Aztecs (6-5-2, 1-4-0 Pac-12).
San Diego State’s one goal came at the end of the first half, courtesy of sophomore midfielder Ozzie Ramos. He finished a free kick from sophomore forward Jeroen Meefout in the 44th minute to cap off a first half completely dominated by the Aztecs, who outshot the Bears, 9-4. San Diego State easily could’ve put another couple of goals on the board if not for Mangels, who made four crucial saves in the first half against an offense that really seemed to be clicking.
“We looked like we didn’t have our legs back from the previous weekend. We came out a little bit flat,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “I think we turned things around at halftime and had a really good showing in the second half and had some great chances to score. We’re unfortunate not to finish two or three great looks.”
In the second half, the Bears put themselves in positions to tie the game but could not put their chances away, continuing what has been a recurring theme in recent weeks. Cal hasn’t won any of its last five games, going 0-3-2 in that span and scoring only 0.8 goals per game despite getting quality shots that the team would usually put away.
“Chances are there, territory is there, numeric advantage is there. Goal-scoring opportunities — it’s all in place,” Grimes said. “I think we’re looking at just that final piece, which is finishing the chances that we are creating.”
The Bears had another of these opportunities in the 57th minute, when junior forward Christian Thierjung got the ball and fired a shot from only 1 yard out but hit it right into redshirt sophomore goalie Adam Allmaras’ chest. Other than Thierjung’s attempt, most of Cal’s chances went wide of the goal, and the team had only two shots on goal all game.
The Bears did get off six shots in the second half, and a couple of them — shots by Thierjung and freshman forward Samuel Ebstein — came within inches of the frame. These near misses clinched the loss for Cal, which now finds itself at the bottom of the Pac-12.
“We’re creating the same chances that we had at the beginning of the year, and they’re just not falling for us right now,” Grimes said.