Cal suffers double-overtime defeat in season finale

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Brianna Luna/File

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The Cal men’s soccer team fought tooth and nail to the bitter end.

A battle in Westwood between one team fighting for its postseason hopes and the other fighting for pride produced a fitting climax to an infinitely unique soccer season.

The Bears held an early lead over UCLA after a beautifully sequenced passage of play that culminated in a left-footed strike by midfielder JJ Foe Nuphaus in the 22nd minute.

Then, they lost their lead. Then, they retained their lead. Then, they lost it once more.

Cal’s dreams of a playoff bid came crashing down in the 109th minute, as Bruins’ freshman defender Tommy Silva scored the second goal of his young career with less than 90 seconds left in double overtime, clinching a 4-3 victory.

“We are all pretty down,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “We were four and a half minutes away from winning and it felt like we probably should’ve locked the game down, but it just didn’t happen. We gave up the tying goal late, and the winning goal late.”

The last goal was emblematic of the chaos of the match itself. A pinpoint through ball from UCLA midfielder Riley Ferch gave freshman forward Grayson Doody an opportunity to chip Bears’ goalkeeper Collin Travasos. Doody’s shot floated across the goal toward a wide-open net but hit the post. Travasos ran across the goal to make a clutch second save after the Bruins snapped a rebound shot. But his save went right back to the opponents — approaching from outside the 18-yard box was Silva, who fired a rocket that bounced off the left post and into the net.

As Silva and his teammates celebrated, no one could blame forward Alonzo Del Mundo, midfielder Francisco Perez and a host of other Cal players who sunk to the turf in agony. The Bears had the game in their paws on multiple occasions but lost their grip in the margins.

“The boys battled the whole game,” said junior defender Ian Lonergan. “We just had some pretty bad mental lapses on some of their goals where a bit of our team shut off. I think shutting off for those plays got them back into the game.”

A careless midfield giveaway from Cal midfielder Lucas Churchill gifted UCLA its first goal. Later, Doody was the lone attacker when he impressively forced overtime in the 86th minute surrounded by three defenders.

In attack, the Bears couldn’t find the winning touch, despite having numerous chances to clinch victory.

“At moments, our press was really good and we picked off the ball in really good spots,” Lonergan said. “But then again, it was the mental lapses in that final pass, that final decision that just wasn’t there at some moments when we needed it to be.”

It was too little too late for Cal, who all but erased its hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in Cary, North Carolina. The Bears ultimately found out that they did not do enough to reach a second straight postseason on the 2021 DI men’s soccer championship selection show earlier today.

Sometimes in life, it’s the journey that means more than what’s out of one’s control. And regardless of the NCAA selection committee’s decision this morning, what Cal accomplished in a season unlike any other should be applauded.

“We went 0-3 and all of our heads were down,” Lonergan said. “The way we turned around this season and how the boys started working together is pretty incredible. All of us and the coaching staff are incredibly proud. We battled this season.”

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