No. 22 Cal men’s soccer ends season on bitter note

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If there was one thing No. 22 Cal men’s soccer had not experienced much of in the regular season, it was disappointment. But Thursday night, with rain and playoff nerves in the air, the Bears’ season ended prematurely in disappointing fashion as they fell 2-1 to unranked USF in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I know they’re disappointed about Thursday’s result, but I think they can definitely hold their head up high,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “They had an unbelievable year, played wonderful soccer and got a lot of accolades around the country for how they played so I think they’ve got a lot to be proud of.”

The Bears entered Thursday’s playoff matchup sporting an 11-6 overall record, with six of those wins against conference opponents. Those numbers not only reflect a successful season, but a massive improvement from last year, during which Cal picked up just a single conference win. The 2016 Bears finished resoundingly in last place in the Pac-12, having notched a whopping four points. Compare that with this year’s second place, 18-point finish, and suddenly the loss against USF feels insignificant.

“I think essentially we wanted to make our periodization in 2017 spot on,” Grimes said. “And I think we hit it on the nose and that’s why the guys were really in great form heading into October and all the way through.”

The season was highlighted by the stellar performance of many members of the team, but specifically that of redshirt senior midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia, junior midfielder Shinya Kadono and sophomore goalie Drake Callender. Each member of that trio was named Pac-12 Player of the Week at some point this season.

Carrera-Garcia, who will graduate this year, has long been an impactful presence for the Bears. Prior to this season, he had amassed 13 goals and 20 assists in his collegiate career and started in nearly every game. His propensity for success saw no exceptions this year, as he led the Pac-12 in assists (9) and recorded four goals.

“Jose was tremendous all year long,” Grimes said. “He was constantly creating chances for the team, scoring and assisting and was always a big problem for the opponent.”

Kadono, Carrera-Garcia’s colleague at midfield, had by far his most successful season in 2017 as well. After a year-long scoring dry spell in 2016, Kadono emerged as the team leader in goals this year, with 7.

On the defensive side, Callender stepped onto the scene in decisive fashion this year, leading the Pac-12 in saves with 78. The bar had been set high for the sophomore, after standout goalie Jonathan Klinsmann departed Cal last offseason to sign with Hertha Berlin, and Callender delivered.

“Drake had several good games in goal and provided some big saves in key games that were really valuable for the team,” Grimes said.

With the help of those impressive performances, the Bears were able to put together a 2017 season marked by considerable improvements on both sides of the ball. They took a last place conference finish in 2016 and turned it into a top 25 national finish in 2017.

And that is anything but disappointing.

Adriana Ghiozzi covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].