Cal grinds out 1st win against San Diego State with late goal

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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In the 81st minute, Cal men’s soccer forward Arman Samimi saw an opportunity to get in behind the San Diego State defense.

Samimi sensed some miscommunication between the Aztecs’ goalkeeper and a teammate, and he knew he had the speed to get on the end of Cal teammate Nate Carrasco’s flick-through ball.

“As soon as I saw the ball in behind, I took off,” Samimi said. “I could sense they weren’t on the same page, so I just capitalized on it. I saw the goalie come out, and I took it around him and put it in.”

The rest of the Bears swarmed Samimi and sophomore midfielder Juan Martinez, whose initial ball sparked the game-winning attack, to celebrate what would be the game-winning goal. It marked the blue and gold’s first victory since November 2019 after one of the most arduous offseasons in the program’s history.

“We’re all really happy,” Samimi said. “The team worked really hard coming off a tough first three games, but we worked very hard in training, especially this week. We came here with the mindset that we were going to win because we know how good of a team we are.”

San Diego State struck first in the 22nd minute on a curling free kick from freshman midfielder Iñigo Villaldea, and the team nearly took a two-goal lead after hitting the crossbar two minutes later. The Aztecs came out swinging in the first half hour, flashing intricate attacks and stonewall defense that pinned Cal in an all too familiar, unnerving position.

Challenging the flow of the match, the Bears responded in style with a swift counterattack as striker Fahmi Ibrahim slotted the ball in the 34th minute by way of a cross from Samimi. The afternoon became a back-and-forth affair, with Cal delivering the knockout blow to a shorthanded Aztec defense following a red card to Kyle Colonna in the 72nd minute.

“We are the only team that hasn’t gone to overtime with San Diego State,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “We knew that they were a formidable opponent and we needed to be absolutely committed to every part of the match, and that’s really what it came down to. It was, overall, just a tremendous afternoon for the boys.”

The blue and gold maximized their chances by converting each of their three shots on goal, and they finally capitalized on their trademark late-game surge in attack. Going from one goal in three matches to three in one match is enough to please any coach, and in some ways, the growth provides momentary validation for Grimes’ squad, who has stood true to its philosophy.

“This one came down to sheer will,” Grimes said. “Our guys just willed the game their way. It was a really good game.”

A player such as Samimi making such a colossal impact in his first game back after a monthlong layoff due to injury is invaluable to Cal and its hopes of rebounding from its rough start to the season. However, there are holes that still need filling in the Bears’ defense, and the rest of the conference will assuredly refuse to let up. Nonetheless, Samimi and his teammates are hoping to carry this momentum forward.

“We just played our game and worked hard,” Samimi said. “We are all just very excited that our season can get going.”

Spencer Golanka covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.