By the time a team gets to midseason, each game is viewed within the context of the bigger picture. A team’s peak needs to coincide with the crux of the season, and as conference play looms, this weekend’s showing has positioned Cal men’s soccer on track to where it needs to be.
Cal came away from its two-game homestand with a win against the University of Delaware, 2-1, followed by a 1-1 draw against University of Massachusetts Lowell, the No. 15 team in the nation.
Friday’s game began with a slow start from the Bears, still recovering from a 110-minute draw in the heat against UC Riverside last Sunday. The opening minutes were characterized by sloppy touches and missed opportunities, as the Bears worked through early game nerves.
The Bears’ movement picked up in the 24th minute after Blue Hens’ senior defender Soren Frost committed a reckless slide tackle, leading to a free kick.
While the kick was blocked by senior goalkeeper Blai Palmi, leading Pac-12 goal scorer and Cal midfielder Shinya Kadono returned the ball by skillfully dribbling past the last Blue Hen defender, positioning only Palmi between himself and the back of the net.
“We talked about high pressing before the game, and then we knew that there would be some loose balls, and I got the chance to put it behind the net,” Kadono said.
While Cal came out more dominant in the second half, within 15 minutes Delaware junior Halvard Ramstad fired a shot into the top left corner of the Bears’ net off of a corner kick rebound.
The Bears, however, were quick to recover in the 69th minute after Kadono beat two defenders to send the ball upline to sophomore midfielder Francisco Perez, who placed a flawless cross from the right side to redshirt freshman forward Alonzo del Mundo for the go-ahead goal.
“It was something that we really worked in practice, which is our crossing and finishing,” del Mundo said. “(Perez) got the ball and placed a perfect ball behind the defense, and I just crashed the second post.”
The Bears had a quick turnaround, with less than 48 hours between Friday’s win and Sunday’s match against the upstart River Hawks.
Cal began with an ardent intensity, dominating the first half with slick footwork and a relaxed presence as freshman defenders JJ Foe Nuphaus and Ian Lonergan handled the ball in the defending third.
“The start of the match was outstanding,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “We had a lot of great shots and created a lot of good scoring opportunities.”
While Cal took 22 shots throughout the game — including three apiece from Perez, junior forward Simon Lekressner and freshman midfielder Taylor Davila — the Bears’ only goal came in the 58th minute. Kadono received a stellar pass from Davila in the middle of the box, putting a foot on the ball to send it past the goalkeeper.
The River Hawks countered by tying the game just eight minutes later when junior midfielder Dario Jovanovski led the ball for fellow junior midfielder Roko Prsa, who knotted the game at one apiece.
The teams battled into double overtime as the Bears took aim at a marquee win. Perez was crucial to Cal’s energy, with the Bears firing off three of the four shots taken in overtime.
With an even spread of production, Grimes was pleased with the effort displayed over the weekend. Next Saturday, the Bears will head down to Santa Clara to take on the Broncos for their final nonconference matchup, before hosting UCLA to kickoff Pac-12 play.
“We played a pretty darn good match against a good team,” Grimes said. “The whole weekend was just a huge improvement.”
Alicia Sadowski covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].