Cal men’s soccer fights back to earn draw at Santa Clara

photo of Cal men's soccer
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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After 480 straight minutes of fruitless attacking, during a stretch that lasted nearly a month and spanned over five full 90s of play, Cal men’s soccer finally put the ball over the goal line. On Saturday night, under the bright lights of Santa Clara’s Stevens Stadium, the Bears mounted a three-goal comeback to secure a 3-3 draw against the Broncos.

Saturday’s game started as a nightmare for the blue and gold. Just seven minutes after the starting whistle, a miscued clearance sent the ball high –– instead of far –– in the air. Santa Clara forward Dominic Vegaalban stabbed the ball past Cal redshirt senior goalkeeper Chris Gustini to give the Broncos the advantage.

Seven minutes later, SCU forward Javier Ruiz Duran dazzled the Bears’ defenders with a backheel pass to set up Vegaalban’s second goal of the night. By the 21st minute mark, the Broncos scored their third: Gustini left his line to contest a floated cross into the box, punching the ball into Santa Clara forward Oladayo Thomas, and the deflection spilled into the back of the net after Cal senior center back JJ Foe Nuphaus swung and missed an easy clearance.

At the half, Cal head coach Kevin Grimes elected to swap goalkeepers, substituting redshirt sophomore Collin Travasos between the posts.

The decision was a gamble. After last week’s game against Washington, Cal goalkeeper coach Henry Foulk commented that he needed to get “bigger, stronger and better.” But Travasos would prove to be a revelation for the Bears.

Following the resumption of play, the Broncos barraged the Bears’ defense in search of their fourth goal. Travasos made an exceptional save with his right foot to stop a seemingly unstoppable Santa Clara chance from 6 yards out.

Then, at 60 minutes, he pulled off a double save to protect Cal’s goal. Travasos’ goalkeeping heroics inspired Cal’s outfield players, and the complexion of the game began to change as the Bears honed in on the Broncos’ goal.

In the 73rd minute, there was a breakthrough. Sophomore forward Wyatt Meyer extended with a diving header attempt to find the end of midfielder Evan Davila’s cross, and he redirected the ball into the back of the net.

The Bears were emboldened by having scored a goal –– an idea that was completely alien just minutes before –– and the comeback was on.

Deep into the second half, the Bears showed no signs of fatigue as they relentlessly pressed in defense and sent players flying forward in attack. Cal suddenly had no issue penetrating Santa Clara’s 18-yard box and firing shots toward the opposing goal.

At the 75th-minute mark, sophomore forward Nate Carrasco controlled a long ball with his chest inside the 18-yard box, laying it off to freshman forward Shoei Honda, whose left-footed strike beat Santa Clara goalkeeper Andreu Cases Mundet.

The Broncos, who were out-classing the blue and gold just three minutes prior, found themselves teetering on the edge of a meltdown. The Bears, who had previously looked devoid of confidence and creativity, were revitalized and itching for their third goal.

And it came. In the 85th minute, Carrasco elevated over the Broncos’ goalkeeper to connect with right back Christian Gomez’s beautifully lobbed cross, making the net bulge for the third time in 12 minutes and completing the Bears’ comeback.

The game headed into overtime, but neither side could find the contest’s seventh goal. After 110 minutes of play, the match finished even at 3-3.

Saturday’s result was only a draw, but the second half performance could serve as a defining moment for the Bears to turn around their season. The team displayed a flash of team cohesion, attacking prowess and defensive composure that, if extended and built on, could propel the blue and gold into a streak of hot form.

Colin Mequet covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].