Let the games begin.
Cal men’s soccer returns this season against San Diego State on Sept. 16 to begin its Pac-12 conference series. The Bears will face off against the Aztecs without home-field advantage and are hoping to redeem themselves from the tragedy that took place at Paypal Park against Pacific the week prior. After falling to the Tigers in an embarrassing 1-2 loss with only two shots on goal, the Bears are looking to come back stronger against their California counterpart.
The blue and gold last met SDSU on April 10 when they celebrated a 3-1 win against their Southern California opponents. Outshooting the Aztecs 19-7, the Bears brought their all last season, even shifting their defensive players up top to create additional scoring opportunities. Senior defender JJ Foe Nuphaus notched a goal onto his belt after scoring from the back line. By extending offensive players forward while simultaneously reducing defensive tactics, head coach Kevin Grimes remains optimistic in his set formation.
“(Our formation) looked good at the last couple of games,” Grimes said. “We are just going to wait and see if we are going to continue it in the next one.”
Sophomore midfielder Evan Davila and redshirt senior Lucas Churchill, stars of the previous match, are hoping to be in starting attendance for the faceoff. However, seeing as Davila suffered an unidentified injury during Cal’s game against Pacific, his playing time remains in question.
Excited to redeem themselves, the blue and gold are expected to bring a heightened level of energy to this matchup. During practices, Grimes could be seen creating new drills to build on the shortcomings of past performances. Insisting that their legs be their weapons, Grimes has been encouraging a greater amount of offensive plays bridging from defensive tactics. Always patient and cautious, Cal must learn to both attack and defend without sacrificing an opportunity.
“If our defending is solid, a little bit more cohesive, it helps us out a little bit,” Grimes said.
On the opposing side, SDSU boasts an undefeated record heading into the Pac-12 conference for the first time since 2005. With an overall record of 3-0-2, the Aztecs recently snatched a shutout against Cal State Bakersfield, 1-0.
The Bears were on a winning streak after emerging victorious against Dixie State and UNLV, yet Pacific stunted this celebration and lowered the team’s morale by a few goals. The Tigers, Cal’s previous matchup, also met it off a win against CSU Bakersfield, 4-2. The difference in scores puts the Aztecs slightly below the Tigers’ skill level, but whether the blue and gold will use that to their advantage remains to be seen.
While Cal might represent more in the skill aspect, SDSU does have its share of strengths. In particular, the Aztecs have Kyle Colonna: a junior defender who has the habit of moving up to score novel goals, much like the “Jack” of all trades talent of Cal junior forward, midfielder and defender Jack Singer.
“Either spot, Jack does dynamite,” Grimes said.
Singer, a player to watch for all previous games, has made it a habit of connecting on many game-winning shots. Scoring against both Dixie State and UNLV, Singer was named to the Top Drawer Soccer Men’s Team of the Week as well as named Pac-12 Player of the Week. Most recently, Singer was named Gatorade’s Athlete of the Month. Singer is expected to use his multitalented soccer abilities to secure a win for Cal fans during this game.
The Bears hit the road to meet SDSU in San Diego for a contentious match that is anticipated to be a stunning opening to their conference series. Goals are expected to be scored as soon as the games begin. Yet the question remains: Will Cal have the strength to win, or will the losses keep on rolling in?
Maria Khan covers men’s soccer and football. Contact her at [email protected].