When Cal junior forward Christian Thierjung scored less than one minute into Friday’s game against San Diego State, the cheers at Edwards Stadium might have been interpreted as a collective sigh of relief.
Thierjung’s goal would be the first of eight registered by the Bears this past weekend, breaking a three-game scoreless streak and breathing life into a floundering Cal offense. The Bears entered their matchup against the Aztecs with an average of 1.5 goals per game after six matches without a win. Now, after its victories over San Diego State and then UCLA on Sunday, Cal (7-5-2, 2-3-2 Pac-12) will take on Washington (6-3-5, 2-1-2 Pac-12) and Oregon State (7-5-1, 2-2-1 Pac-12) with the hope that it can maintain its offensive productivity as it heads into its final two weeks of the season.
The Bears will kick off the weekend Friday with a trip to Seattle, where they will face Washington at Husky Soccer Stadium. Since the Bears’ 0-0 tie with the squad earlier this month, Washington has picked up a 1-0 win at home over Oregon State and a 1-0 loss on the road to Maryland — thus totalling one goal over the three-game span. The Huskies have struggled to find the back of the net this season, ranking last in the Pac-12 in total goals scored with just 13.
On the other side of the ball, however, Washington has proven that its defense belongs among the best in the country. While the Bears recently gave up six goals against UCLA, the Huskies have allowed just eight goals all year. Nationally, the program ranks seventh in goals against average at just .52, a result that had come partly from the impressive performance of goalkeeper Ryan Herman. The redshirt senior has logged the most saves in the Pac-12 with 63, and ranks fifth in the country in save percentage.
“We still know that we have a lot of work to do,” said redshirt sophomore midfielder Carrera-Garcia. “We know it’s not going to be easy. We got two wins, but the other three games aren’t going to come easy for us.”
On Sunday, Cal will encounter a team with a very similar skill set to that of the Huskies. Oregon State is much weaker on the other side of the field, possessing one of the conference’s more stingy defenses. Struggling to score against both Pac-12 and nonconference opponents alike, the Beavers rank last in shots per game in the conference. Unlike Washington, however, Oregon State is on its own scoreless run. After facing the Bears earlier this month and coming away with a 2-2 tie, the Beavers suffered a 3-0 loss to Stanford before falling 1-0 to the Huskies.
If the Bears hope to finish the season out with a road win on its record, they will need to make sure that their most critical contributors execute at the level at which they played last weekend. Thierjung — who won NSCAA Player of the Week after scoring a hat trick against San Diego State — is ranked second in the Pac-12 in total goals scored. Meanwhile, Carrera-Garcia notched two goals of his own against UCLA on Sunday, and is currently tied for the fifth in assists nationally.
“These two teams both have tough cuts and tough defenses, so we need to come out very physical from the the get-go and set the tone early,” Thierjung said. “We’ve been practicing that this entire week in practices, and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]