Outmuscled on the road, Cal’s season comes to a close in Santa Barbara

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

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There is no victory without defeat. Like two sides of the same coin, these two words exist in tandem. One breeds the other. It’s a fundamental part of any competition. A celebration can only mean that somehow, somewhere, heads are hanging low. Anytime there’s a winner, someone else has lost.

On a cold Thursday at UC Santa Barbara’s Harder Stadium, that loser would be the Cal men’s soccer team. Battered and bruised, the Bears returned home. UCSB avenged its early season loss to Cal in violent fashion, playing a tough, physical game and triumphing 3-1.

The Gauchos set the tone early, tackling hard and pressing the ball to disrupt the Cal possession game.

“High foul count and a high yellow card count,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “It was a physical match. It looked like playoff hockey instead of playoff soccer.”

Despite accumulating three yellow cards, the home side’s strategy worked. For the early stretches of the first half, the Bears were ill at ease with the ball at their feet. UCSB took full advantage, pressing on with fast counter attacks.

The tactic seemed to bear fruit. Just 17 minutes in, Gaucho midfielder Thibault Candia slotted a shot home, only for the assistant’s flag to rise in what can only be described as an extremely close offsides call.

It did not matter. Just seconds later, Cal midfielder Paolo Carrillo-Weisenburger committed an error, allowing UCSB’s junior forward Rodney Michael to take the lead. The Gauchos promptly turned on the heat, but the Bears collected themselves under fire.

As the first half waned, the fatigue from constantly pressing began to show for UCSB. Cal inched its way back into the game and in the 39th minute, redshirt freshman Christian Gomez turned a chaotic corner into a 1-1 draw.

The beginning of the second half saw the Bears tighten their grip on the game as small errors began to pile up for the Gauchos. But the visitors’ luck did not hold. In the 64th minute, Cal goalkeeper Drake Callender missed a bouncing back pass and was forced into a difficult tackle. The referee pointed to the penalty spot.

“Took a really odd, directional bounce. As he went to clear it, it went over his foot. As he and the Santa Barbara guy went for the ball, Drake slid,” Grimes said. “You can argue he got mostly ball — you can argue he got mostly man. At the end of the day, it was a close call from the referee and that was the turning point in the game.”

Candia stepped up and made no mistakes, sliding the ball low and to his right as Callender dove the opposite way.

“It was definitely not a good position to be in,” Callender said. “I think going from the miss into the PK was kind of a one-two punch for me. It was tough to deal with mentally right there.”

The Bears restarted the game with a new fervor. Attacker Jonathan Estrada was denied by the trailing left hand of UCSB keeper Ben Roach just minutes later.

The Gauchos had the final say, though, as right back Noah Billingsley, who was a force to be reckoned with for the full 90 minutes, send in a cross which his teammate Will Baynham turned into the net.

Down 3-1, Cal could not come back and UCSB prolonged its season at the expense of Cal’s.

“The team just never stopped,” Grimes said, remaining upbeat in the face of defeat. “Even tonight, down two goals, up to the last second of the game. They played through the line every game to end the season. They did a phenomenal job.”

The game carried extra weight for Callender, who, as a senior, played his last game in goal for the blue and gold. Despite his mistake, he refused to bow his head.

“Either you win or you learn. It’s tough to stick with ‘Oh I failed.’ It’s not easy to do that in front of a stadium of people, on live TV. It’s about how you react and how you go forward from there,” the Cal goalie said. “There’s always more that you could have done, but I’m just grateful for playing here, for building the relationships that I built.”

For every winner, there is a loser, and all good things must eventually come to an end. But in every failure, there are lessons to be learned for the next game. Even as the Cal men’s soccer team left the field, some for the final time, they did so as they have done all season.


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