In a frenzy of a match, a Cal team with a then 2-8-1 record, fresh off of beatdowns by Washington and Oregon State, gave everything it had to escape Santa Clara with a draw.
Its reward? Hosting UCLA and San Diego State, teams with a combined record of 15-7-2, on Oct. 21 and 24.
The Bears will return to Edwards Stadium to welcome the Bruins and Aztecs in an effort to climb from the bottom of the conference standings. The Bruins are coming off a 2-1 victory over No. 14 Loyola Marymount, in which freshman Aaron Edwards was responsible for both goals. Cal will look to even the season series, with UCLA posting a 2-1 win in the last meeting between the two teams.
Cal’s back line will have its work cut out, as it must carry a struggling offense that only just found its groove during Saturday’s draw at Santa Clara. UCLA and Cal rank third and last, respectively, in average points per game. While only four Bears have scored multiple goals this season, the Bruins attribute their offensive prowess to their ability to get multiple players involved, regardless of experience: Senior Kevin Diaz, redshirt freshman Tucker Lepley and sophomore Tommy Silva each have four goals this season, and seven overall players have netted at least two goals. The blue and gold must account for the Bruins’ vast offensive firepower, a fact which Cal head coach Kevin Grimes is well aware of.
“The more important thing is just to have really good team defending and team cohesiveness, because I think if you try and isolate just one or two guys there, there could be a different one or two that could end up being the person that makes the difference,” Grimes said. “So for us, I think the most important thing is just to make sure that the cohesive team defending ends up being paramount, as opposed to just trying to isolate two or three guys on their team.”
Like UCLA, San Diego State also comes into Berkeley hoping for a season sweep of Cal. The Aztecs posted a 2-0 shutout of the Bears during their Sept. 16 meeting. In fact, the Aztecs (alongside Washington) lead the Pac-12 in shutouts with seven (the Bears, conversely, are tied for last in the conference with one). Sophomore goalkeeper Jacob Castro is a key reason why San Diego State ranks No. 2 in the conference in saves, aiding in the Aztecs’ bend-but-don’t-break defense. Making matters worse for the Bears is the fact that they rank last in assists per game, potentially limiting their ability to surgically pick apart the back line.
Despite the challenge, the blue and gold hold a clear home-field advantage. The Aztecs have not won a conference game on the road, sporting a 0-3 record while failing to score a goal in any of those games. The Bears are also a more disciplined team, ranking No. 5 in fouls committed in the Pac-12 while the Aztecs sit at No. 2 behind Stanford. For a team like Cal that has struggled offensively, the ability to draw fouls will provide some extra opportunities for set pieces.
Given the short turnarounds in the Bears’ schedule, the chance to hold onto positive momentum is crucial, evident from the team’s second half against the Broncos.
“(We need to make sure) we are cohesive on both sides of the ball and really trying to carry out the second half,” Grimes said. “It’s the best half we had all year … I think that would be probably something that we want to try and accomplish … that would be our kind of momentum that we’re looking for.”
The Bears have slogged their way toward a looming last-place finish in the Pac-12. If they can rekindle some of the fire they displayed last Saturday, the blue and gold could be in for a better finish for the homestretch of the season.