Playing to final minute, Bears aim to end season 1 game at a time

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

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Fate is a popular part of any story. From the tales of King Arthur, to Aztec mythology and Greek prophecies, people have long liked to discuss destiny. For centuries, humanity has strived to know and control what lies ahead.

But here’s the thing: No one knows a thing about the future.

Imagine this: You’re sitting down to take a massively important test, but you’ve forgotten your pencil. So you ask your roommate to bring it for you, but your roommate is a cat.

Fate is that cat. It could show up. It could still be asleep. It could have left a dead bird on your bed.

The future could go according to plan and you could get your pencil. On the other hand, everything could go wrong, because the only thing predictable about the future is its unpredictability.

This is a fact Cal men’s soccer head coach Kevin Grimes makes perfectly clear when asked about his team’s postseason aspirations.

The Bears enter the last half of their conference season with everything to play for. The Pac-12 sent four teams to the NCAA tournament a year ago — and if Cal can put together a strong finish, which it is absolutely capable of, then the blue and gold could make an appearance in the postseason.

The simple fact, though, is that there’s no way to know exactly what the Bears need to do to achieve that goal.

“When it’s all said and done, it’s predicting something in the future that we just can’t grasp at this point,” Grimes said. “I do know that we have to play all the way through the final minute of the final game. Because anything can happen.”

Cal will bring that mentality to the table when it hosts UCLA on Halloween and San Diego State Sunday.

The Bears have played both of their opponents already this season, drawing the Bruins 3-3 in Westwood after drubbing the Aztecs 4-0 in San Diego. But Cal isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I think it’s the same for both teams,” Grimes explained. “You’re going to know each other a little bit more than you did the first time around, but it’s all relative because it’s the same thing on their end.”

Soccer seasons mimic the sport’s individual matches. No one stands still, teams are constantly improving and changing. Nothing can be taken for granted.

Cal’s draw with UCLA earlier this season was uncharacteristic for multiple reasons. The Bears scored a lot and were scored on a lot, both unusual. Grimes pointed to the unique field at Wallis Annenberg Stadium in Los Angeles as a potential cause.

The Bruins’ home is unusually narrow, facilitating “transition” play and high-scoring results. Cal’s playing style — strangling opponents with possession and creating open spaces for through balls and control — is more suited to the wide expanses of Goldman Field at home.

UCLA has a dangerous attack which relies upon its primary striker, Milan Iloski, who leads the nation with 16 goals this season. Iloski is dangerous anytime he is near the goal, and he managed a goal against the Bears in their last encounter and more than 50% of his shots are on target. If the Bears can control the ball and limit Iloski’s touches, however, they will be able to beat the Bruins.

San Diego State, meanwhile, is the weakest team in the Pac-12. The Aztecs are 0-7 in conference play and have lost six straight entering their contest in Berkeley. It has been a difficult season for San Diego State, who average half the goals its opponents do.

Grimes and the Bears will take both opponents seriously, though.

“There’s no point in looking at any opponent’s record or conference standing,” Grimes explained. “No matter what their record is or what their standing is, it doesn’t change the quality of the opponent. They’re good teams.”

The Aztecs have scored in all but one of their away games and will be aiming to break their losing streak. Last season, Cal broke a six-game losing streak during a visit to San Diego, and you can believe that its opponents will be aiming to return the favor come Sunday.

The Bears are coming off of a difficult loss at Portland, where a slow start proved fatal and condemned the team to an avoidable loss. Grimes described the performance as an anomaly, but it is one Cal cannot afford to repeat.

A lazy opening act Thursday or Sunday could spell doom for the blue and gold, but doing so against UCLA would be particularly impactful. Cal is playing after a nine-day break, the same type of break that preceded its loss to Portland. The Bruins are just three points behind the Bears in the Pac-12, and Iloski could score multiple goals at the drop of a hat — if the hosts’ defense is not vigilant from the get-go.

Cal has five games to go before the regular season draws to a close and its fate, despite the potential for feline-esque chaos, carries promise. The postseason looms large, and there is everything to play for.

But none of that matters.

“You got 17 games on your schedule and they’re all worth the same, whether it’s the last five or the first five, they all count and they’re all looked at equally,” Grimes said. “You just put your best foot forward and when your done with the final minute of the regular season, you hope you’ve done enough.”

Jasper Sundeen is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].