It’s desperation time for the Cal men’s soccer team, who will need to pull out all of the stops to leave the SDSU Sports Deck victorious over San Diego State (0-2-1) on Saturday.
The Bears are winless through three matches for the first time since the 2003-04 season and have failed to score in their last two games. As the lack of preseason training continues to rear its ugly head, it’s imperative that Cal deal with the early pressure from the opposition, as head coach Kevin Grimes suggests.
“Sometimes you need to skip the pressure, we call it skipping lines,” Grimes said. “Teams are pressing a lot more lately than they have in past years. So you have to be ready to either be exquisite and play through that, or you need to be ready to skip a line and try to build out when the opponent has worn down and their nervous energy is gone.”
That nervous energy seems to be causing the Bears’ defensive struggles so far this season, as they are often forced into making errant passes and wayward dribbles. Conversely, in its offense, Cal has only found success late in matches when opponents are more than happy to sit back and defend, especially when the opponents have the lead.
Fortunately for the Bears, the Aztecs employ a risk mitigating, direct style of defending that may benefit Cal’s attacking exploits. But while the blue and gold might do well against this tactical philosophy, it has worked for SDSU, as the Aztecs have forced overtime in every match so far this season. Most recently, SDSU almost earned an upset against No. 8 Washington but lost 2-3 after a 91st minute goal. The Aztecs had the lead just one minute before the end of regulation thanks to a two goal, man of the match performance from sophomore Blake Bowen.
“I think San Diego State has definitely been a good defensive team this year,” Grimes said. “They take no risks out of the back at all. They will not play out. When you don’t play out from the back, you minimize your risk of giving the ball away in a bad spot.”
The Bears will hope to replicate the fortunes of their 4-0 victory over the Aztecs in their last matchup in 2019, during which Cal scored two goals in the first 12 minutes. Senior striker Tommy Williamson, who has yet to score in 2021, scored the winner in the sixth minute.
According to Grimes, the Bears will stay true to their possession-based build up play with hopes that what they’ve been able to achieve in training finally comes to fruition when it matters most.
“We’re looking forward to the day that our excellent training matches game day. That hasn’t happened yet,” Grimes said. “We are not exactly sure when that will happen, but we know at some point the quality work we are putting in will manifest on game day.”
Kick off is at 1 p.m.