After sputtering through the vast majority of this season, Cal men’s soccer has finally sparked its ignition. Last Thursday’s victory against UCLA, which came off the back of an encouraging comeback draw against Santa Clara University, marked the Bears’ first win since Sept. 5, first conference win of the season and the second time that they have avoided defeat in consecutive games.
The 2-1 home win was a comprehensive performance from the blue and gold and signalled a departure from Cal’s recent defensive struggles. After conceding seven goals from 17 shots on target during Cal’s preceding games against Washington and Santa Clara, Cal’s suddenly stalwart defense limited UCLA to one goal from one shot on the Bears’ frame.
The brief deficit was no issue for the blue and gold’s attack, as two long-range, curling goals in the second half from Cal forwards, junior Fahmi Ibrahim and sophomore Adrian Guzman, put the Bears ahead and secured their well-deserved win.
For head coach Kevin Grimes, the win was a long overdue reflection of the Bears’ continued positive performances on the pitch, regardless of the disappointing results in previous games.
“If I look back at it, (we’ve played) eight really good halves –– four good games in a row,” Grimes said. “And then results manifested with a tie (against Santa Clara) and then a win today.”
Now, the Bears will look to build off of their momentum in a Pacific Northwest double feature against University of Washington and Oregon State, on Thursday, Oct. 28, and Sunday, Oct. 31, respectively. After Sunday’s game against San Diego State was canceled due to inclement weather in Berkeley, the Bears will depart for their trip more rested than their opponents, who played each other this past Friday, with Oregon State snatching a late winner in Seattle to secure a 3-2 victory.
Nonetheless, both Washington and Oregon State should be flowing with confidence heading into their games against Cal.
Washington was perched at the very top of the rankings until last week’s defeat to Oregon State, and its pedigree this season is leaps and bounds ahead of the Bears’. The last time Cal and Washington faced each other, the Huskies handed the blue and gold a humbling 4-0 defeat in front of the Bears’ fans at Evans Stadium.
Likewise, Oregon State, who are now ranked third in the nation and coming off of a victory against the previously No. 1 ranked Huskies, will certainly be the favorites ahead of this weekend’s clash in Corvallis. The Beavers defeated Cal with a scrappy 1-0 win in Berkeley when they played Oct. 7.
For the Bears, a draw or win against either team will render the trip up Interstate 5 a massive success. After the Cal defense’s standout display against the Bruins, with junior Jack Singer and senior Ian Lonergan composing a formidable central defense, it is likely that Grimes will be happy to let his team sit back and absorb pressure in both games, as a more expansive and ambitious setup would enable Washington and Oregon State to pick the Bears apart with their superior quality.
But once Cal recovers the ball, Ibrahim, who scored against UCLA, would offer the perfect counter-attacking threat — his pace, technical skill and composed finishing will pose significant danger if the Bears strike quickly on the break.
Unfortunately for the Bears, the potential turnaround of their season came right before two of their most difficult games. They sit at the very bottom of the Pac-12 standings, with one win and five losses in conference play, and have already squandered opportunities to beat easier conference opponents. But if the blue and gold can draw or win in either of their next two games, they will at least be able to evidence dramatic progress and development that came most likely too late to propel them to a playoff run but can carry into next season.
Colin Mequet covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].