For any visit to Los Angeles, the entrancing Southern California charm can be overwhelming. From the smooth quartzite beaches to the year-round 70-degree weather to the hustle and bustle of the world’s biggest movie metropolis, LA is often referred to as “La La Land” with good reason: There’s a plethora of distractions.
In the case of the Cal men’s soccer team, such interference from focusing on the game likely led to its preeminent collapse. On Sept. 19, against UCLA on the road, Cal fell to the Bruins 2-1. Three days prior, the Bears dropped their Pac-12 conference opener 2-0 to San Diego State 134 miles south of Westwood.
“It was specific defensive moments where we could’ve done something a little better about our positioning,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “We had some letdowns, which led to good opponents capitalizing and scoring. We didn’t execute like we would’ve wanted to.”
Cal’s upcoming game against No. 1 Loyola Marymount is a chance to change the narrative. This time around, the Los Angeles team is the visitor. On its home turf of Edwards Stadium, Cal currently stands 2-0-0 –– a stark contrast to its abysmal away record of 0-3-1.
“No matter who it is, we look at every game as a great opportunity to improve and to come out better than we did the previous game,” Grimes said. “That’s the key.”
Success for the Bears in this match will be dependent on their offense. Players such as junior defender/midfielder/forward Jack Singer and sophomore midfielder Evan Davila tend to play best when stationed up top. In Cal’s only two wins this season, the duo combined for five out of the team’s six total goals against Dixie State and UNLV.
Unsurprisingly, Davila and Singer also boast the most points for the Bears at first and second, respectively. Davila is currently tied for 24th in the nation with three total assists, while Singer holds Pac-12 Player of the Week and Gatorade Athlete of the Month awards under his belt.
Oftentimes leading Cal’s offense alongside the Davila-Singer duo is budding prospect Shoei Honda. In the 84th minute of the Bears’ 4-3 win against UNLV on Sept. 5, the freshman forward from Sakado, Japan, netted the game-winning goal in front of a crowd of nearly 700 spectators. Though Honda has yet to start a game, expect Grimes to possibly entrust his newly acquired Swiss Army knife with valuable minutes against LMU.
“He’s really good going forward and taking players on one-on-one,” Grimes said. “He’s done a very nice job on being creative all on his own.”
On the defensive side of the pitch, Cal is juggling between two goalkeepers: redshirt senior Chris Gustini and redshirt sophomore Collin Travasos. Both have started multiple games this season, with the latter currently owning a save percentage of 71.4% — the fifth best in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Gustini has tallied 16 saves, the fourth most of all goalkeepers in the conference. As such, Cal should be in good hands whomever Grimes decides to slot into the starting formation.
However, with an overall record of 7-0-1, LMU is quite the force to be reckoned with. Should Cal manage a win, or even a tie, against the No. 1 NCAA men’s soccer team in the nation, it’ll undoubtedly have the last laugh. But to do so, the Bears must find their bearings before they find themselves stuck in La La Land for the rest of the season.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that LMU is ranked No. 1 for NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer. In fact, it is ranked No .11.
Ryan Chien covers women’s soccer and is a deputy sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].