Cal men’s soccer laments tough breaks en route to ‘incomplete’ season

Lorenzo Dela Cruz/Staff

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More than two months ago, the Cal men’s soccer team embarked on a campaign aiming to better last season’s disappointing first-round playoff loss. Sporting a mix of returning players with veteran leadership and high-profile freshman recruits, the Bears were hopeful to do just that.

Throughout the course of the season, however, the team experienced rotten luck in terms of both health and play on the field. In spite of the countless setbacks, the Bears continued to fight and scrap, putting their best foot forward forward every time on the pitch.

“If we had to give ourselves a grade, it would be incomplete,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “Many of the cards were stripped from us, before and during the season. We didn’t have any margin for injury or error, and that’s asking a lot in a full season.”

Early in nonconference play, before the injury bug hit, the potential firepower that the Bears possessed became apparent. In marquee nonconference games against two likely tournament teams in Pacific and UMass Lowell, the Bears displayed their grit, going to overtime in both contests.

After starting out 4-2-1, the misfortune began as several key players, including seniors Sam Ebstein and Simon Lekressner, went down because of injury. Over the next nine games, including conference play, the Bears would go on to lose eight contests.

The rough stretch was primarily due to various injuries and a series of bad luck. On the pitch, the Bears were able to create threatening chances, but time after time were unable to find the back of the net. Despite the team seemingly being in every contest, the end result simply didn’t justify the team’s play.

Regardless, the players stayed upbeat all season long, and their hard work and determination came to fruition at the end of the season. In the team’s final two contests against San Diego State and Stanford, Cal triumphed, earning two consolation victories to end the season on a high note.

“I was pleased with the team’s ability to overcome the difficult circumstances and earn two huge victories at the end of the season,” Grimes said.

Regardless of the team’s outcome this year, the highlight of the season was the phenomenal play of senior Shinya Kadono. As a preseason All-Pac-12 pick, Kadono lived up to the hype and more. In a record season in which the striker led the Pac-12 in goals and points, Kadono wreaked havoc on opposing defenses, frequently punishing back lines whenever he had sight of goal.

Looking ahead to next year, the Bears will find it difficult to replace the veteran presence provided by Kadono, Lekressner, Ebstein and Sam Junqua. The partnership forged between freshman defenders Ian Lonergan and J.J. Foe Nuphaus this year, however, should prove to pay dividends down the line.

Overall, this season was indeed not a proper reflection of this team’s true potential. Grimes and the rest of the squad will be left wondering what could have been if their luck had been a bit more favorable. Nevertheless, the Bears have a strong, young core capable of making the next leap forward in the years to come, thus making Cal one of the most formidable squads in the Pac-12.

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