Destiny is a funny thing. Our views of it are constantly changing. Do we want to be controlled by it or do we want to control it? Do we want to go with the flow or break out of it?
Controlling one’s destiny, in any context, is both scary and empowering. It is the point where we stand to gain or lose the most. If we succeed it is because of what we did, if we fail it is because of what we chose not to do.
This is always true in soccer. Each decision on the field is an irreversible change that alters the outcomes of games and seasons.
That is why Cal has been so remarkable this season.
“There’s many teams I’ve coached at Cal that do not control their own destiny, their destiny is controlled by outside factors,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “But this team doesn’t have to worry about any of that, they control their own destiny every game.”
This Bears team has not been perfect. They are young. They have demonstrated unparallelled brilliance and inexcusable error — the hallmarks of inconsistency. But, they have yet to be outplayed. Cal experienced its first loss of the season to Denver last weekend, but the Pioneers did not beat the Bears. The Bears beat themselves.
As the season continues and the stakes rise, Cal will need to become more consistent to maintain a grip on its fate. In other words, the Bears will need to win. After a frustrating defeat, the Bears will try to bounce back against their most difficult opponent yet, No. 2 Stanford.
“They’re obviously a good team, they’ve had a lot of success in recent years,” Grimes said of a Cardinal squad that has won all five of their games this season and won three straight national championships from 2015-17.
After losing to Cal on the final day of the 2018 regular season, this great rivalry will carry extra weight and motivation for the Cardinal. Stanford fields a strong squad on both sides of the ball, having scored 13 goals this season and only let in one. It has been a team effort as 12 players have registered either a goal or an assist.
The Cardinal have been extremely successful in dead ball situations as well. Stanford has scored a goal off a set piece play every game thus far.
“They’re obviously a team that can get goals on set pieces,” Grimes said. “So you’ve got to be tidy defending set pieces.”
A large part of that success has stemmed from star center back Tanner Beason, who has converted three penalty kicks in 2019. Last year’s Pac-12 Player of the Year is truly a force to be feared, whether Cal is defending or attacking.
The Bears, on their part, have several particular areas in which they need to improve.
Cal has struggled to convert goal-scoring opportunities this season. The Bears have averaged over 20 shots on goal per game, but only have seven goals, a lowly 1.40 per game, to show for it.
Earlier in the season, Cal waxed UC Santa Barbara 3-0, but those goal woes came back with a vengeance against the Pioneers.
“We had some great highlights against Denver and we want to turn those highlights into goal-scoring plays,” Grimes said.
The Bears are focusing on improvement during practice. The goal is always to get better. Cal has used training to break down their finishing troubles into specific items they scrutinize. But practice isn’t the whole story.
“You can also win a game and not improve,” Grimes said. “Our ideal circumstance is to make sure we’re heading in the right direction, with our overall team getting better game by game.”
To beat Stanford, though, Cal will have to do more than just improve.
The Bears have creative forces in the midfield — Alonzo Del Mundo leads the team with four assists. The defense is rock-solid and goalie Drake Callender has been a wall. Cal will need an extra effort from the front to get a win against their bitter crosstown rivals.
Tommy Williamson has been a man on fire, scoring three goals and showing an eye for goal. Starting striker Arman Samimi opened his account against UC Santa Barbara this season, but has struggled the last few games. Jonathan Estrada, Cal’s attacking midfielder, has likewise seen opportunities come and go without goals to show for it. Whoever leads the line must be clinical if the Bears are to get a positive result.
To keep their destiny in their hands, the Bears must return to their winning ways.
Cal has continuously stated they are good enough to win a Pac-12 championship and maybe more. Stanford is the No. 2 team in the nation and will surely target their fourth national championship in five years. Those destinies will clash Friday at Edwards Stadium.
Jasper Sundeen is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at