Cal is currently 0-2, marking its first winless start through two games since the 2003-04 season, and now the team is set to face an undefeated No. 10 Oregon State squad in Corvallis, Oregon, this Saturday.
Granted, the Bears started this season against two of the top teams in the country — No. 3 Stanford and No. 8 Washington — rather than exhibition games or nonconference matchups with less marquee schools. And, for the most part, the blue and gold have held their own, losing each contest by two goals only, and making adjustments to show marked improvement in the second halves of each match.
But the lack of urgency from Cal head coach Kevin Grimes and his squad to earn their first win is somewhat surprising given the fact that only eight regular season games remain in the Bears’ abbreviated, conference-only season.
Grimes is confident, however, that at some point — perhaps several games from now — the team will finally start playing to its full potential.
“If you’re really starting to get your groove with what you’re doing in training, and then you keep playing matches, at some point it’s going to click. We don’t know which game that will be,” Grimes said. “Will it be game number 3 this weekend? We all hope so. But it could be game four, it could be game five; and we have to do everything in our power to control what we can control.”
In the Bears’ last game against the Huskies, Washington took the game to Cal from the outset, and the blue and gold had trouble breaking their opponents’ press in Cal’s defensive third. Even in the final 20 minutes of the match, when the Huskies were up 2-0 and cruising, the Bears did not look like a threat. The last 10 minutes or so saw Cal chasing the game, always one step slower than Washington’s midfielders and, consequently, the Bears spent more time defending counterattacks than they did creating opportunities of their own.
When asked about what went wrong against the Huskies, right-back Christopher “CJ” Grey acknowledged that Cal was poor in possession.
“Sometimes with our possession of the ball, we might have been a little bit sloppy in possession and then easy turnovers lead to them counterattacking,” Grey said. “But within the game, the loss of ball possession, especially in the midfield — if we’re able to cut out those types of mistakes, then we don’t have their midfielders and their attackers running at our back line.”
In any case, No. 10 Oregon State, Cal’s date this Saturday, won’t wait around for the Bears at 6 p.m. kickoff. The Beavers came flying out of the gates this season, as they are currently 5-0 and earned a 2-1 win over then-No. 16 Washington in Seattle on Feb. 20. This past Saturday, Oregon State won its fifth game of the season, beating UCLA, 2-1.
The Beavers’ junior forward Gloire Amanda is one of the best strikers in college soccer at the moment. The Canadian is tied for fifth in the nation in total goals scored with six goals through five games, including two against the Huskies. Oregon State also boasts a stellar midfield and front line, evidenced by the fact that eight different players have earned an assist so far this season. Amanda also leads the team in assists with three.
“They’ve got a really talented midfield, for sure. Probably the strength of their team is their attack: their midfield and their forwards,” Grimes said. “At this point, we’re super focused on ourselves and we’re not trying to overemphasize the opponent at this point. That might be step two as we march along in our season.”
As Grimes said, the Bears may start playing well and earning results in the near future, but if things do not start “clicking” soon for Cal, a historically poor season is a real possibility.
William Cooke covers men’s soccer and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].