Brains over Bruins: Preparation helps Cal defeat UCLA

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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Three weeks ago, two straight wins for Cal men’s soccer would have seemed highly unlikely. Perhaps some luck would have had to come the Bears’ way (a tornado destroying Witter Rugby Field — Cal’s home pitch this season — might have been a welcome interruption to an abysmal start to its season). But after a 2-0 win over UCLA in Berkeley on Saturday, that highly unlikely scenario has come true. And luck had little to do with it.

“We had a rough start to the season, but we kept putting in the work, working hard every single week and just the satisfaction you get from winning is unlike anything else,” said freshman midfielder Evan Davila. “Producing for the team and getting a win, it means a lot. I’ve been working hard, this team’s been working hard as well and it’s definitely deserved”

Davila, the Bears’ wonderkid midfielder, scored Cal’s first goal in the 14th minute and then earned an assist to attacking midfielder Jonathan Estrada two minutes later, his first ever goal and assist for the blue and gold.

The Bears were able to hold on for the next 75 minutes and did not concede a goal, an impressive feat considering that the Bruins got off 14 shots compared to Cal’s five. This was also the Bears’ first clean sheet of the season, which comes as a bit of a surprise after conceding 11 goals through their first four games, including two in their 3-2 victory over San Diego State on March 13. Staying more compact at the back was a point of emphasis coming into this match, and it clearly made the difference.

Photo of Lucas Churchill of Cal Men's Soccer

Davila’s goal was unassisted. His first shot, a left-footed effort headed for the far corner was blocked by a UCLA defender. The freshman then took a touch off of the blocked shot onto his right foot and shot again. His second effort took a deflection and curled past the outstretched hand of the Bruins’ goalkeeper, Justin Garces, and into the top right corner.

Estrada’s goal was, in part, thanks to Cal’s understanding of UCLA’s style of play, which includes pressing and skipping lines when the Bruins’ defenders are under pressure.

“From what I saw (on film), UCLA was a high pressing team, and once we found an out from a left-back and we switched the ball, their centerbacks and their outside backs were pretty spread out, and they had holes,” Davila said. “They brought a lot of players up, so we were able to counter them.”

With a lot of Bruins high up the pitch and one of UCLA’s centerbacks preparing to play a long switch, Davila saw his chance. The midfielder picked off the pass and drew the defenders in by running at the Bruins’ back line, then placed a perfectly weighted pass to Estrada, who beat UCLA’s right back and blew the ball past Garces into the roof of the net.

A Bears’ squad that was winless a few weeks ago is now one win away from a 0.500 record and right behind three teams — Washington, Oregon State and Stanford — in the Pac-12 standings. The aforementioned three all currently find themselves inside the top 10 in the national rankings, and each has beaten Cal this season. The Bears have a short turnaround before their next game against the No. 2 Cardinal this Wednesday in Palo Alto. The replay of the Big Clasico is Cal’s chance to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these past two wins weren’t flukes, but rather evidence of real improvement since the team’s 1-3 loss to Stanford in its season opener.

William Cooke covers men’s soccer and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].