The outlook for the Cal men’s soccer team is not bright. Its 4-0 defeat at the hands of No. 2 University of Washington this past weekend featured goalkeeper mistakes, defensive shakiness, midfield dysfunctionality and attacking impotence.
Repeated attempts to send the ball long were quickly swept up by Washington players, meaning the Bears could never really take positions to test the Husky goalkeeper. Despite holding Washington scoreless in the first half, albeit by strokes of luck, the blue and gold completely crumbled after they conceded from a free kick that arrowed into the top left corner in the 51st minute.
“The free kick goal so early in the half … was a turning point in the game,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “We needed to react a little bit better from that, and we obviously didn’t. I think things kind of fell apart.”
Sunday’s game marked the Bears’ seventh consecutive defeat — a streak that started against Pacific more than a month ago Sept. 9. During this stretch, opposing teams have outscored Cal 17-2. The Bears could not put the ball in the back of the net in five of those games.
And so this weekend, for the seventh consecutive time, Cal will look to bounce back from a loss with a big win — or at this point, maybe even a draw. The blue and gold will head to the South Bay to face off against Santa Clara.
The Broncos will come in flowing with confidence from their six-game unbeaten streak, which has landed them at the top of the West Coast Conference. Their only loss this year came against No. 1 Georgetown. But despite its impressive record, Santa Clara’s overall quality of opposition is not as remarkable. The Broncos have earned zero wins against currently ranked teams. Nonetheless, there is merit in Santa Clara’s ability to win games and score goals, something Cal has not been able to similarly accomplish and then replicate.
Where could Grimes look to turn things around this weekend? The answer may be in junior forward Fahmi Ibrahim, who displayed an inspiring performance off of the bench against Washington. In his cameo, he tormented the Huskies’ right side with dangerous runs and incisive passes, once controlling a pass on his chest and blasting the ball with a powerful long-range volley against the crossbar. Ibrahim could offer the attacking creativity that the Bears so desperately need.
But one player is likely not enough to reverse the fortunes of the entire team. The Washington loss was a comprehensive beat down in which the Bears failed to find success on any part of the pitch. As the Bears’ loss column continues to grow, Grimes may need to shake the team up and take drastic measures to bring the blue and gold back to winning ways.
On Saturday, we could see a defensive low-block setup to protect the Cal goal and spark quick counterattacks once possession is gained. Alternatively, Grimes could turn up the intensity and instruct his team to press higher up the pitch in search of turnovers in dangerous areas. This would also force the Broncos to play long balls toward Cal’s massive center backs. Either way, the passive midblock that enabled Washington to have its way with the Bears proved porous and ineffective. But that’s not to say it will be phased out.
Cal vs. Santa Clara will kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday in Santa Clara. The match will be available for streaming on the West Coast Conference website.