Sunday may have been senior day at Edwards Stadium, but it was the freshmen who stole the show as Cal men’s soccer downed UCLA 3-2.
The Bears came out of the gate strong, going up 1-0 in just the seventh minute as freshman midfielder Francisco Perez scored on a cross from the top left corner off a nice pass from senior midfielder Aravind Sivakumar. It was not only Perez’s first goal of the season, but the first goal scored by any of Cal’s freshmen this year.
The first half was physical on both sides, with the teams combining for three yellow cards before the 45th minute. Despite UCLA’s aggressive attack, Cal’s defense ensured it would remain in the lead as the Bruins took six first-half shots to the Bears’ eight. Seconds before heading back to the locker room, sophomore goalie Drake Callender showcased his athleticism in a diving save that robbed the Bruins of an equalizer. The former Pac-12 Player of the Week would go on to notch six saves in the match.
The Bruins briefly made it a game in the 54th minute when Cal senior defender Ugo Rebecchini fell victim to creative footwork by UCLA freshman forward Milan Iloski, who took a shot from inside the 6-yard box and scored to tie the game. It was just a little more than 20 seconds after that, however, that Perez scored again to give the advantage right back to the Bears.
“First one, I got my first ball, and I was going forward as I usually intend to do,” Perez said. “And I just looked to goal and hit it back post like I do in training, so that one was pretty straightforward. The second one was a little bit of a hopeful one, but I just tried to strike the ball well, and it went back in the net where I wanted it to.”
The 79th minute felt like a case of déjà vu, as UCLA junior midfielder Anderson Asiedu put the ball just over Callender’s head to knot it up once again. Less than a minute later, junior midfielder Shinya Kadono put Cal right back where it wanted to be, as he scored following a patient and cleverly executed assist from senior midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia.
Callender once again pulled through with a save on a close call in the last few seconds of play and ultimately was able to close out the 3-2 victory.
“I think (Perez) was ready,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “He was ready to score some goals. He hadn’t had a goal all year, and he had two great ones today, so he was ready for that moment.”
The seniors of Cal men’s soccer passed down the torch in their final regular-season home game, and Sunday’s game proved that they could rest easy leaving the team in the hands of capable young players. For Perez and the rest of the freshmen, the pressure of the seniors leaving is seemingly a non-issue.
“I’d like to see it more as an excitement for the future to come,” Perez said.