Cal men’s soccer is set to return this season with a double feature against Saint Mary’s on Aug. 26 and UC Santa Barbara on Aug. 29. The Bears will face off against both teams without a home-field advantage and are hoping to improve upon their performances from the time before. The blue and gold last met Saint Mary’s in 2016, where they notched a 2-2 tie, in comparison to their last match against UCSB in 2019 where they lost 1-3.
The Bears predicted a successful beginning to their season, but so far, expectations have fallen short. Cal experienced several frustrating ties during its exhibition series: Sacramento State, San Jose State and the University of San Francisco all ended in draws.
With these games marking the start of the much-anticipated year, the Bears are anxious to pick up from where they left off. Luckily, the effects of COVID-19 have yet to interfere with the season.
“Everybody is pretty much healthy, with everyone either vaccinated or in the process of being vaccinated,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “Right now, we are conditioned to follow Berkeley city ordinances and standards.”
It is vital to the trajectory of the rest of the season that the blue and gold get off to a fast start and bring home wins from games against UCSB and Saint Mary’s. So far, the Bears have presented a united front and are excited to finally be back on the field.
“We are fired up to be back here, we’re in our locker rooms, we’re using our facilities, it’s phenomenal,” said sophomore Collin Travasos. “We really missed last season, so we are pumped up just to be out here. We’re happy with where we are right now and all things considered we’re pumped to get back to the training ground.”
These upcoming games will serve as a litmus test for Grimes, his staff and his team to indicate how the pandemic has affected their ability to train and compete. Saint Mary’s will be heading into the match with high levels of confidence after a 2-0 win against Sonoma State. The Gauchos will play UC San Diego before hosting Cal. Hopefully Grimes can motivate the team to come back from its series of ties and finally earn a victory against one (or both) of the rival California schools.
Standout players to watch out for this weekend include fifth-year senior Christopher Grey, All-Pac-12 honoree and senior JJ Foe Nuphaus, senior Ian Lonergan and senior Alonzo Del Mundo. Along with a Pac-12 honor, Del Mundo also earned himself a spot on the United Soccer Coaches Men’s All-Far West Region Second Team.
Travasos and senior goalkeeper Chris Gustini are also players to keep an eye on. Both Travasos and junior Arman Samimi earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors last season.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Bears have not been able to perform with the in-person support of all of their fans. This season will give them more of a return to normalcy and test their ability to perform under pressure. With two teams in one weekend, there are plenty of opportunities for the blue and gold to conquer the competition and redeem themselves after a series of ties.
Maria Khan covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].