Before Thursday night, few pundits and supporters felt compelled to continue tuning in to watch the Cal men’s soccer team contend for a spot in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The team’s inability to cap off thrilling games with wins left many disappointed and frustrated.
But Cal head coach Kevin Grimes’ men instantly turned heads Thursday night when they made headlines by upsetting UCLA, 2-1, on the road. The spotlight suddenly came Cal’s way again, leaving many wanting to see where the Bears would go from there.
Fans and commentators wondered if the shocker meant that Cal was back on track to make a strong push in its attempt to make a postseason run. And they didn’t have to wait too long to get some answers when the Bears faced San Diego State on Sunday. The Aztecs, however, weren’t phased by the Bears’ stunner and instead start the match looking to show Cal that they weren’t going to suffer the same fate as the Bruins.
San Diego State quickly made a statement in the seventh minute when Travis Nicklaw gave the Aztecs a 1-0 advantage off an assist by Pablo Pelaez. Cal searched for an equalizer but its offensive plays were efficiently resolved by the Aztecs’ well organized defense, forcing the Bears to head into the halftime break with a minimal yet discouraging deficit.
Cal continued surging forward in the second half, as it continuously kept knocking on San Diego State’s doorstep. But the Aztecs threw their limbs in harm’s way and efficiently parried away any rebounds that could have given their opposition the chance to swoop in from behind and poach a goal. No matter how hard the Bears tried throughout the second 45 minutes, they couldn’t find a way to crack the stingy San Diego State defense.
Cal midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia raised his team’s hopes when he was knocked down in the 81nd minute near the inside of the Aztec’s 18-yard box. The main official, however, deemed the offense worthy of only a free kick, which Carrera-Garcia shot over the crossbar. Carrera-Garcia’s poor attempt proved to be the Bears’ last significant attempt at securing an equalizer, as San Diego State’s defense hung on for a well earned 1-0 victory.
One can’t help but get the sense now that Cal’s shocking victory against UCLA was a minor blip of cruel hope in a bad month of October that hasn’t been kind to the team. The Aztecs reminded Grimes’ side that it’s likely going to have to change its goal from returning to the postseason to simply finishing its final three home games without a loss.
Regardless of that, the Bears need to continue work on finishing their goal-scoring opportunities and strengthening a defense that has played a role in the program’s inability to avoid having frustrating meltdowns. If Cal can manage to improve on these aspects of its game, it will be able to take some comfort in knowing that it least went down without a fight, instead of giving up and considering the rest of its season a lost cause.