As Cal men’s soccer prepares for a weekend matchup with Portland, it’s hard to ignore the Pilots’ aggregate 15 goals in comparison with the Bears’ lone score. But those numbers, while intimidating, do not tell the whole story of Cal’s 2017 season thus far.
It is a story with the consistent themes of aggressive offensive and solid defense, but with a plot twist in the form of a startling inability to score.
“There’s a lot of great chances, and that’s always a good sign,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “But the finished product will end up being the answer ultimately in a match to get a result or not. All these great chances have not completely manifested to goals, but I think that’s what we’re trying to strive for this week.”
Cal has taken an introspective approach to mending its scoring woes, coming off a 1-1 weekend (a loss to Creighton and win against Northeastern) in which it converted 25 shots into just 1 goal. The Bears are now looking to create scoring opportunities from more parts of the box in an effort to avoid the late-game frustration that comes with missed chances.
“We’re just describing the spaces in the box that are available to them that we see on video that we’re not occupying inside the 18 and seeing if we can occupy those spaces with a little bit more authority and a little bit more thoughtfulness,” Grimes said.
No one currently on the Bears roster has matched up with Portland, but the teams have already faced a common opponent this year in Cal State Fullerton. The Bears met the Titans on the road in the preseason, notching a 2-0 win. The Pilots also beat the Titans in a 5-0 rout this week, although they did so on home turf. Both teams came away with a shutout of Fullerton, potentially indicating the high defensive quality of Saturday’s matchup.
Scoring difficulties aside, Cal has played well this season, especially on defense. The Bears had six saves in a 1-0 shutout of Northeastern last weekend and showcased their defensive depth while playing in triple-digit heat. Heading into Portland, Cal will need to sustain the high level of defense that it has shown throughout the season.
“I think you’re just aware of where their strengths are on the field, and you just play your game accordingly and have an awareness of where they might be threatening in the attack,” Grimes said.
In order to not only create scoring opportunities but also find a way to capitalize on them, senior offensive presences Jose Carrera-Garcia and Paul Salcedo will have to step up. The two led their team in shots (eight total for Salcedo and seven for Carrera-Garcia) in the first three games, but neither has been able convert their efforts into goals. After a week of scoring-focused practice, Salcedo, Carrera-Garcia and the rest of the offense should be more than prepared to put up points this weekend.
While the story for Cal so far has not been one of high-scoring games, it certainly has the potential to be rewritten this weekend at Portland.