With under three minutes remaining in regulation, Cal forward Christian Thierjung slowed his breakneck pace to a cautious dribble.
After racing down the length of the field, he was near the top of the 18-yard box with only one Washington defender left in his path. He shifted slightly to his right and as the black jersey in front of him followed, Thierjung changed trajectory and darted left. Sprinting toward the post, he fired a shot past goalkeeper Ryan Herman. The goal would give the Bears the only score in a 1-0 victory over the Huskies (6-4-5, 2-2-2 Pac-12).
“We had been working hard that entire game, we just couldn’t find the back of the net,” Thierjung said. “But sometimes that’s just what it comes down to — gritting your teeth and working hard until the very end.”
Friday’s win would be the first of two for Cal men’s soccer this past weekend. On Sunday, the squad notched a 2-1 victory over Oregon State (7-7-1, 2-4-1 Pac-12), extending the program’s winning streak to four after a six-game winless streak had plagued the Bears for most of October. Now, having registered its first road wins of the year in Oregon and Washington, Cal heads into its final weekend of the regular season with a 9-5-2, 4-3-2 Pac-12 record and much improved postseason prospects.
“It was huge. I believe it started with the San Diego State and UCLA games back at home to get our momentum going, and that transitioned into our away games this weekend,” Thierjung said. “It’s really hard to win on the road, especially when we come up here and play under these conditions, but our team’s been really resilient.”
Yet at the beginning of Friday’s matchup, this weekend’s results looked far from certain. In a battle that echoed the teams’ 0-0 tie earlier this season, Washington kept Cal to 10 shots and no goals through 87 minutes. Meanwhile, the Bears managed to keep the Huskies’ offense at bay, stopping all four of Washington’s shots on goal during freshman goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann’s strong performance. Only Thierjung’s 88th minute score would break the deadlock, giving the Bears their first road win of the season.
Heading into Cal’s second matchup of the weekend, the Bears would see their offense heat up against another elite defensive opponent, Oregon State. From the first minute of play, Cal looked little like the team that had gone more than half of the season without a Pac-12 win. With clean passes and tight control of many of the initial plays, the Bears got on the scoreboard within the first ten minutes. Again, it would partly come from the efforts of Thierjung who drove in the goal after receiving a chip from forward Spencer Held.
The Bears would add to their tally in the 23rd minute, when an assist from midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia found defender Nick Lima. The junior then finished the play for his second goal of the year, bringing the Bears’ lead to 2-0.
But with the first frame winding down, the Beavers struck back. In the 39th minute, forward Timmy Mueller stopped mid-drive as a Cal defender was caught off balance. Suddenly working with plenty of open space near the top of the box, he sent a perfect pass skidding through the Bears’ defense and straight to the feet of forward Jordan Jones. The sophomore capitalized on the opportunity to get his team on the scoreboard at the conclusion of the first half, bringing the game to 2-1.
It looked like the Beavers would find an equalizer several times in the second frame. Unfortunately for Oregon State, however, multiple saves by Klinsmann — including a leaping effort in the 63rd minute — would keep the score static through the final 45 minutes.
“We definitely had times when our play was a little bit off,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “But we stuck together and I think our community and our drive got us through some of the rough patches.”
Dani Jo Coony covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].