Cal men’s soccer splits final road trip of 2018, earns first victory away

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With an away match against three-time defending champion Stanford looming during this upcoming week, the Cal men’s soccer team knew that last weekend’s contests against UCLA and San Diego State were likely the team’s last chances to pick up an elusive road win.

It took much longer than the team probably wanted it to, but that road victory finally arrived. Despite dropping yet another tightly contested contest to the Bruins, the Bears responded Sunday against the Aztecs, notching their first road victory of the year in dominant fashion.

Thursday’s clash with UCLA was as evenly matched as the first go-around in Berkeley, when the Bruins got the better of the Bears, 2-1. This time around, however, redshirt junior Noah Texter was in goal, replacing junior Drake Callender who was out because of an injury.

Texter was superb throughout the afternoon, routinely making incredible saves to keep the Bears in the contest. On the day, the redshirt junior tallied seven saves in total, including a crucial penalty kick stop in the first half against freshman midfielder Matt Hundley.

As the first half winded down, Cal got its first real opportunity of the game when freshman forward Jonathan Estrada threaded a ball to sophomore Tommy Williamson, who deftly got around the keeper but was controversially pushed off the ball, eliciting shouts for a penalty kick. The foul was not given, much to the dismay of Bear fans.

That missed opportunity would ultimately be a huge difference maker.

In the second half, both teams continued to attack and put pressure on opposing backlines. Cal finally looked as if it was going to find its breakthrough when senior Sam Junqua crossed a ball to a streaking Shinya Kadono about a yard short of the goal, but the leading Pac-12 scorer hit the crossbar and could not convert.

The Bruins ended up capitalizing on Cal’s shortcomings in the 87th minute when sophomore forward Santiago Herrera punished a header into the back of the night, sending UCLA fans into the crisp Westwood night and leaving Cal players shaking their heads once more.

After the Bears’ sixth-straight loss, Cal turned its attention to San Diego State, eager to eradicate the winless road tag to its name. With Callendar back in goal this time around, Cal aimed to secure the season sweep against the Aztecs.

The Bears came out hungry, aggressively seeking an early breakthrough. At long last, Cal found its moment of brilliance when sophomore Christopher Grey set up a one-timer to freshman Taylor Davila, gifting the Bears a 1-0 advantage.

Cal’s relentless pressure on the Aztec backline paid off about 20 minutes later when redshirt freshman Lucas Churchill found the back of the net off a pass from Davila. With a cushion, the losing skid was on the cusp of concluding.

In the second half, the Bears hit the cruise control button and did enough to secure their first away victory of the season, 2-0. But with one more game remaining for Cal this season, the Bears will be wondering — what if? Throughout the season, Cal had its chances but, as seen in the UCLA result, was simply not able to make plays when needed.

With a plethora of returning players, it will be fascinating to see how this team develops in the coming years. For now, however, the Bears have their focus set on spoiling Stanford’s senior day this week.

Praveen Kuruppu covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].