Failure does many things. It humbles, it hurts, it angers. Ultimately, though, it is a chance to learn. It is an opportunity to face one’s inadequacies and triumph over them.
After a tough two-game stretch against Denver and Stanford where the Bears lost 1-0 and 2-1, respectively, Cal men’s soccer will aim to return to its winning ways when San Francisco comes to Edwards Stadium on Saturday.
The Bears started strong and undefeated, accumulating a 3-0-1 record. Through these four matches, Cal was scored on just once while simultaneously managing seven goals.
In their last two games, the Bears have been outscored three to one. The two resulting losses came against very good teams, but weaknesses are still clear.
“We were on a roll through preseason and early regular season and there’s a lot of things there that we can get back to this weekend,” said head coach Kevin Grimes, whose focus this week has been to recenter his team.
This weekend, Cal will focus on returning to the defensive form that made it so dominant early in the season.
“We want to just get back to being a team that takes a lot of pride in how we defend,” Grimes explained.
The Bears have shown weaknesses defending the front post, where both Denver and Stanford scored off of crosses, and the center backs Ian Lonergan and JJ Foe Nuphaus must give their keeper more cover if they desire the return of their defensive form.
That goalkeeper will likely be Drake Callender, as Noah Texter, who has started one game this season and leads the team in save percentage, has picked up a short-term injury.
Callender has played all 90 minutes of every other game this season, and is a more than solid option.
The Cal defense will be challenged by a San Francisco attack that, despite losing two straight, has scored in four consecutive matches.
“They have really good attacking players,” said Grimes. “They’ve got some versatility with their attack as well.”
But defense alone cannot win a soccer game. The Dons have allowed 21 goals in seven matches this season, and the Bears’ offense will attempt to increase that tally.
Cal’s forwards have been less than fantastic this season, scoring just 7 percent of their total shots. Finishing shortcomings have been scrutinized by the entire squad thus far, but Grimes is taking a hands-off approach this weekend, and is hoping that the offense can find its form.
“We’ve created numerous chances in every game that we have played,” Grimes said. “We’re going to let our attack take care of itself.”
One of the most critical takeaways from the Bears’ loss against Stanford was the lack of consistency on both sides of the ball. Cal played an excellent first half, controlling the flow of play perfectly before a polar opposite performance in the second period of play.
“The next one is about putting a full 90 together,” Callender said. “Finishing through the 90 minutes. We don’t want to let up at all.”
Improvement in both the offensive and defensive phases has to be for a complete match. San Francisco will be hunting for mistakes and quick goals, a luxury which the Bears cannot provide.
The Dons (2-5) have been less than stellar in 2019, and this should be the perfect game for the Bears to get their season back on track. If Cal returns to its defensive form and overcomes its scoring struggles for a full game, there should be little doubt over the result.
After facing their first two losses of the season, the Bears must right the ship and learn from their failures, lest their season slip from their grasp.