It’s inconvenient when your biggest rival also happens to be one of the best teams in the nation. The No. 22 Cal men’s soccer team (11-5) is set to take on the No. 3 Stanford (14-2-1) away in its last regular season game of the fall.
Despite the large gap in rankings between the two teams, the margin that defines the top from the bottom in the NCAA top-25 men’s soccer rankings is only a few games. One minute, or even one bounce, can be the difference between Cal and Stanford sharing the same record.
It’s nothing more than bad luck and a few random plays in the season that have defined Stanford’s dominance over Cal.
After recording two consecutive losses on the road against Washington and Oregon State, the Bears turned their luck around to tally two more home wins after a bye week, when they faced SDSU and UCLA.
While Cal is currently enjoying their recent victories, it will be the ultimate season challenge for the Bears to face the Cardinal on its home territory to close out the season.
Stanford senior Foster Langsdorf is by far the highest goal scorer on the Cardinal roster with 11 goals on the season. Only about 55 percent of his shots are on frame, however, meaning that if sophomore goalkeeper Drake Callender stays focused in the net, he should be able to curb Langsdorf’s offensive efforts.
From a defensive standpoint, Stanford is extremely talented. It has rarely allowed an opponent to score more than one goal and has tallied 11 shutouts this season alone. This speaks both to the Cardinal’s strength in the back and the prowess of their goalkeeper redshirt senior Nico Corti.
In order to be successful in this matchup, the Bears will have to emphasize not just taking shots, but placing them. After having trouble keeping shots away from the goalie against SDSU, Cal will likely have spent time practicing shooting precision — training which will benefit it in this high intensity setting.
“You certainly do yourself a big favor if you can get yourself on the board with multiple goals in the match,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “We have to keep building from that UCLA game and converting the chances that we create.”
Despite its status as a ranked team, it is still not apparent whether the Bears will earn a berth in the national playoffs. In NCAA soccer, the rankings and playoff qualification are completely separate, and 24 of the 48 teams chosen are hand-picked by a selection committee.
“None of us really have an idea — whether we win, lose or draw — of what the selection committee would do,” Grimes said. “We are just going into it knowing that we have to play like we have played the other 16 games. If we do that, we can just let fate take its course.
Lucy Schaefer covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected]