Southern California is where dreams go to become reality. Even people with little to no talent can head down there and become pop stars — I’m looking at you, Hulk Hogan.
But the bright lights of the big cities down south can put anyone off their game. I believe Miley Cyrus captured the feeling of that Hollywood pressure perfectly in what may be the best song of the 21st century: “Party in the U.S.A.”
“My tummy’s turnin’ and I’m feeling kinda homesick / Too much pressure and I’m nervous”
I’m not sure the taxi man turned on the radio, or that the Jay-Z song was on, or that the team took taxis anywhere for that matter, but the Bears’ frontline was “rocking kicks” all weekend long.
I’ll stop, for now.
On Thursday, Cal beat San Diego State 4-0, the most goals they’ve scored in a match all season. On Sunday, the Bears scored three more against UCLA, only to tie 3-3 in a game that went to double overtime.
Sophomore forward Jonathan Estrada was the star of the show in both games, notching three goals and an assist over the weekend.
Following the 1-0 loss to Washington last Sunday, the Bears were keen to step into the spotlight again in San Diego.
“They knew they played a great game and came away with nothing,” said head coach Kevin Grimes of the game against the Huskies. “And I think they showed great commitment tonight to step on the field and put in a great effort.”
Cal came out and quickly stole the show, scoring two goals in the first 12 minutes. In the sixth minute, junior forward Tommy Williamson controlled Estrada’s cross beautifully with his chest before volleying into the bottom left corner. Just six minutes later, senior right back Simon Lekressner rifled junior midfielder Francisco Perez’s cross past the Aztecs’ goalkeeper, Max Watkin, to double Cal’s lead.
Two more goals, one from Estrada in the 32nd minute and the final nail in the coffin from freshman forward Fahmi Ibrahim in the 89th minute, secured an emphatic win for the Bears.
Cal has struggled all season to put shots on target, let alone turn those shots into goals. But on Thursday night, the Bears were clinical. They took six shots, put five on goal, and scored four.
When asked why the team’s finishing had improved, Grimes said he knew they were always capable of finishing their chances.
“I kind of had a feeling that they were going to have a good shooting day. We know they can shoot well because we see it in practice every day. Right now it’s getting what we see in training, from their shooting, accuracy and finishing in that environment over to the game environment” Grimes said.
The Bears’ five minutes of fame very nearly turned into 10 on Sunday night with what was a heartbreaking tie for the team.
After UCLA scored in the 10th minute, freshman midfielder Paolo Carrillo-Weisenburger responded just 35 seconds later off of yet another assist from redshirt sophomore forward Alonzo Del Mundo. Del Mundo’s cross found Carrillo-Weisenburger, whose header toward the feet of the UCLA goalkeeper crossed the line before he could make the save. It was Del Mundo’s sixth assist of the season.
Estrada scored twice. His first was a cool finish on a one-on-one with goalkeeper Justin Garces in the 23rd minute, and his second was a back post tap in off of a low cross from redshirt freshman midfielder Christian Gomez in the 69th minute. Those goals should have been enough to lead Cal to victory.
But two more goals from UCLA, including an 83rd minute equalizer, meant the Bears left Los Angeles with an impressive attacking performance and only a tie to show for it.
In their previous 10 games, Cal had only allowed six goals. Conceding three against UCLA was uncharacteristic of a usually solid defense.
Grimes did not pin the Bruins’ three goals on mistakes from his back line.
“It was just a matter of our opponent having a couple of good strikes on frame and they found the corners on quite a few of them. There was some quality shooting, really from both teams and that was really the difference,” Grimes said.
Keeping UCLA’s Milan Iloski, who leads the nation with 15 goals on the season, to just one score on Sunday night is an accomplishment in and of itself. Cal senior goalkeeper Drake Callender saved Iloski’s penalty kick in the second half to deny him his second.
The Bears’ defense showed weakness against the counterattack, though, letting UCLA attackers get the best of them during transition for two of the Bruins’ three goals.
If the team hopes to ride Jonathan Estrada’s hot streak to another “Party in the U.S.A.” the Bears’ defense will have to make the butterflies fly away. Now third in the Pac-12, opponents will be looking at them more closely now.
Cal will take a much needed eight-day break before traveling to Portland next Tuesday.