A beautiful game is rarely beautiful all of the time. Even a dominant performance is not always perfect from start to finish.
This was certainly the case in Cal’s 2-0 win Saturday against San Francisco, which marked head coach Kevin Grimes’ 200th win in charge of the Cal program.
Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. In the rough-and-tumble world of college soccer, beauty is winning no matter how a team goes about it.
The Bears certainly dominated possession and looked comfortable on the ball for the entirety of the match, which was a marked improvement from last week’s game against Stanford.
“We were sharp with the ball at our feet and the guys stayed involved the entire 90 minutes,” Grimes said. “That’s something we wanted to do and improve upon from our previous game, and I thought we did that.”
But the Bears started slowly, and sloppy play in the attacking third limited Cal’s number of clear, goal-scoring opportunities.
At the 17-minute mark, redshirt sophomore Alonzo Del Mundo opened the scoring. The winger earned his first goal of the season off of a free-kick from the top of the box. His shot took an unforgiving deflection off of a Dons defender, leaving the outstretched San Francisco goalkeeper Ruben Stuiver with no choice but to watch the ball trickle in.
Del Mundo was obviously pleased to get off the mark, but he was especially proud to have broken Cal’s streak of failing to capitalize on free kicks.
“We work a lot on free kicks after practice,” said Del Mundo. “That’s something we need to work on more since we’ve had one goal off of a free-kick after a couple of free-kicks. We need to get that percentage up.”
Up 1-0, the Bears continued to dominate possession, but clear-cut chances rarely came. Passes in Cal’s attacking third of the pitch continued to go astray.
In the 44th minute, right-back and senior Simon Lekressner slid a hard and low cross across the six-yard box hoping to pick out junior forward Tommy Williamson, who leads the Bears with three goals on the season. Williamson managed to put the ball on frame, but Stuiver made a comfortable save.
Quick passes at the top of the box were not working. Cal, frustrated by the compact and organized San Francisco defense, played more through balls over the top of the Dons’ back-line in the second half in hopes of stretching the defense out to create openings.
Just minutes after the start of the second half, a perfectly weighted deep pass from sophomore defensive midfielder Taylor Davila put Williamson through on goal. A well-timed tackle from a USF defender denied Williamson a shot.
Another long ball, this time from sophomore Jonathan Estrada, found Williamson again. The opportunity left San Francisco defender Taiki Kajitani with no other option but to foul Williamson outside the box, earning him a yellow card.
While the second half saw the Bears create many more chances from open play than the first, Cal’s second goal also came off of a set-piece.
Just eight minutes into the second period of play, Cal earned two consecutive corners. On the second corner, the ball fell to Del Mundo who laid it off to Estrada. The attacking midfielder rifled the ball inside the left post from a little over six yards out, giving the Bears a 2-0 lead. Del Mundo’s assist was his team-leading fifth on the season.
The team was particularly pleased with its solid defensive display.
In the 2-1 loss against Stanford last Saturday, Cal allowed 17 shots and gave up seven corners. The Bears allowed only two shots, one shot on goal and one corner against the Dons. Del Mundo felt that the team’s tactical changes contributed to this success.
“This week in practice we talked a lot about defensive shape. That’s something we didn’t really talk about for the Stanford game,” said Del Mundo.
Fullbacks Lekressner and Christopher Grey were forced to stay back to defend last Saturday against the ever-present danger of a Stanford counterattack. Against San Francisco, both players felt confident enough to venture forward.
Davila dropped back farther from his normal position as midfielder, often playing as a third center back to provide defensive coverage for the marauding defenders.
“Our ball possession was better today than it was against Stanford, so that helps. When you’re keeping the ball for longer stretches you’re able to get your outside backs forward more. We’ve got to stay within our style and our system and if we can do that would be a big help to us,” said Grimes.
The Bears head into Thursday’s game against Oregon State brimming with confidence, something that the team needed after the loss against rival Stanford in the Big Clasico.
“Overall, the players put in a really great performance against an up-and-coming USF team,” said Grimes.
Key word: overall. The Bears will need to not only dominate possession and tempo on Thursday but also be sharp in the attacking third from start to finish if they are to have a solid chance at beating the Beavers.
Jasper Sundeen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at
The byline accompanying this article incorrectly stated that Jasper Sundeen was the author. In fact, William Cooke was the author.