“Beauty and the Beast” is a timeless story of seeing past an ugly outer shell to find the beauty that lies within.
If you have followed the Cal men’s soccer team this season, I hope you’ve taken some cues from Belle. The Bears have been winless in their last four games, with their most recent loss coming at the hands of San Diego State — the only winless Pac-12 team heading into Sunday’s game at Edwards Stadium.
My advice to Cal men’s soccer fans: Keep your X-ray goggles on.
The Bears take on No. 1 Washington in Seattle on Thursday, Nov. 7 before heading to Corvallis, Ore. to take on Oregon State. The Beavers are on a two-game winning streak, their last two games being against San Diego State and UCLA, which are two teams the Bears have failed to beat in recent games.
Washington, the best team in the nation, has earned 11 clean sheets in 15 games this season. The last time Cal played Washington, the Bears were shut out after putting only two shots on goal, a season-low.
In the Bears’ loss to San Diego, Cal took an extraordinary number of shots — 27, to be exact. Unfortunately for head coach Kevin Grimes’ side, they could not find the back of the net. Only eight of those 27 shots were on frame.
“You have to be able to create that, and that’s what we’re doing. Our shots on frame, though, have to be higher than they currently are because that cost us the game on Sunday. We had plenty of shots to score multiple goals,” Grimes said. “You should probably score a minimum of two, and we had zero.”
The Bears rank 164th in the nation this year in shot accuracy. But Cal fans, if you look hard enough, success is hiding behind a thick layer of failure. Case in point: The Bears are seventh in the nation in total shots attempted this season.
“That’s not easy to do. You have to be doing something correctly as a team to have the seventh-highest shots average per game. That’s not something that just happens just through randomness,” Grimes said.
So while Cal may be struggling to score, it is certainly not struggling to create shot attempts. The quality of those shot attempts is up for debate, but if the Bears can suddenly turn those shots into goals, the beauty in the beast will finally come out.
This will be hard to do against Washington, as the Huskies have everything to play for heading into Thursday’s 7 p.m. game. Washington, which has earned a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament, will want to stay hot heading into December by winning its last 10 matches.
Cal’s playoff hopes were all but destroyed after the loss to San Diego, so the Bears will draw motivation from more than just the hope of winning.
“They’re playing for the pride in their jersey, they’re playing to improve as players because these are all high-quality opponents, and on the road, and they need to experience this type of competition as much as they possibly can,” Grimes said. “Nobody wants to do anything but take advantage of three super high-quality games to finish the season and to finish the season on a strong note to help propel us into next season.”
Creating opportunities and finishing will be the hardest tasks against Washington. The Bears seemed stagnant in the game against San Diego, with lots of players forward to end the game but very little movement to create gaps in the San Diego defense. Sophomore midfielder Taylor Davila feels that counterattacks and more movement could do the trick against a Washington team that plays defensively.
“How they play against us is they ‘park the bus.’ So it’s just about how can we either drag them out or hit them in transition before they get set. So it’s just how can we drag them out of places we don’t want them to be in,” Davila said.
Oregon State sits right above Cal in the Pac-12 standings with 13 points. A win against Washington and another against the Beavers could potentially see the Bears move up to third in the standings if Oregon State also loses to Stanford on Thursday, Nov. 7.
The Beavers are 4-2-1 in conference play, with one of their two conference losses coming against the Bears early in October. The difference in that game was that Cal was clinical in front of goal, finishing two of its five shots on frame.
There have been bright spots in every Cal loss this season. Wins against No. 1 Washington and Oregon State would help Cal fans finally see the beauty that is lurking beneath the surface.