On Saturday evening in Corvallis, Oregon, Cal fell to 0-3 on the season following a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of No. 10 Oregon State.
The Beavers outclassed the Bears on both sides of the pitch — they dominated possession for nearly the entire 90 minutes and, apart from two Cal shots that hit the post in the final 10 minutes, did not look as though they would concede a goal. By the 34th minute, down 3-0, the blue and gold seemed to accept defeat. Even in potential counter-attacking situations, players watched as haphazard, head-down runs down the sidelines amounted to nothing.
“We had the same problem as we did in the first two games,” said holding midfielder Lucas Churchill. “We came out a little too slow, not ready to match their energy, and they capitalized on that.”
Sure enough, not even five minutes into the match, the wheels fell off. In the third minute, a misplaced pass from goalkeeper Collin Travasos quickly led a lofted cross from the left side of the box. Oregon State forward Gloire Amanda’s glancing backwards header fell into the run of midfielder Sofiane Djeffal, who coolly slotted the ball into the left corner of the goal. Just like that, the Beavers were up 1-0.
The Bears tried to respond, but sloppy possessions meant that they didn’t even attempt a shot until the 13th minute when Churchill recorded one from about 18 yards out.
Cal’s energy levels proceeded to drop off faster than an old iPhone’s after a well-executed Oregon State attack that started in its own box led to a goal by Amanda. His curling, right-footed effort found the top-right corner, and, 21 minutes into the match, the game already felt decided.
Cal head coach Kevin Grimes disagreed that the result had to do with a lack of energy, instead pointing to the Beavers’ indisputable quality in the attacking third of the pitch, which caused the Bears to chase a result from the outset.
“You don’t normally see a team score that many good quality goals in one game, where they’re hitting shots in the upper-90 and bending balls with accuracy in the far corners,” Grimes said. “You might see that once every couple of games, but this was a night in which their finishing was really, really good.”
Those two early goals were certainly demoralizing, and it showed in the blue and gold’s tendency to sit back and let the game come to them. Grimes attributed what followed to the fact that Cal was desperate from the beginning to get back into the game, which left it exposed at the back.
“I don’t think it had to do with energy,” Grimes said. “It had more to do with, you know, you go down one goal super early in the game, and you then have to chase a little bit on the road, and so you end up exposing yourself a little bit too much, and I think that’s really what we did.”
In any case, Oregon State midfielder Joel Walker’s 34th-minute goal off of a perfectly-weighted through ball from Amanda was the final nail in the coffin. Midfielder Tyrone Mondi’s right-footed shot on the turn that found the top-right corner shortly after halftime felt like overkill.
In the final 20 minutes of the match, however, with Fahmi Ibrahim and Nate Carrasco on the pitch, the Bears began to look dangerous. Ibrahim’s pace and skill down the left-hand side and his link-up play with Carrasco provided what Cal had been missing.
The Beavers sat back a bit more and defended their lead towards the end, and the blue and gold managed to hit the woodwork twice — once in the 80th minute when Carrasco’s shot hit the crossbar and again in the 89th minute when Juan Martinez hit the outside of the left post.
“You know, if you folded your tents, you’re not hitting the post twice in the last 15 minutes, so we definitely didn’t fold our tents,” Grimes said. “Yeah, energy probably dipped a little after the second or third goal. Yeah, you’re going to have a natural head-down type of thing. But the second half was pretty good all-in-all.”
Now 0-3 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Cal must turn things around — and quickly. With only seven games left in the regular season, the Bears are running out of time to start playing well. Grimes is confident that eventually that time will come and indicated that the team’s inability to train in the fall due to local COVID-19 restrictions is rearing its head.
“These teams are ahead of us, in some ways, with how much they trained in the fall. And so we just have to continue to chip away at getting ourselves back into game form,” Grimes said. “We don’t have a secret powder to sprinkle on the guys and just instantaneously get them back into game form. That’s going to come through time.”
But time is ticking on this abbreviated season and, just like Oregon State, it won’t wait around for Cal.
William Cooke covers men’s soccer and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].