After redshirt senior goalkeeper Chris Gustini racked up a game-high eight saves in Cal’s 1-1 draw against Stanford, he had time to reflect on the season in what was his final game with the team. As he talked about his teammates and expressed gratitude for all of the seasons he played, Gustini noticeably teared up.
“A lot of emotions right now,” Gustini said. “I played five seasons here, and there are ups and downs in soccer. That’s why I pray for my brothers. (I’m) just very emotional right now and loved every minute playing for this team to represent the school. Just really thankful and grateful right now.”
Gustini’s words reflected a bittersweet ending for the Bears, in which they gave up a second-half equalizer after notching the game’s first score early on. Despite the improved effort against the Cardinal after a 5-0 loss earlier in the season, Cal finished fall 2021 with a 3-9-3 overall record and only one Pac-12 win that came against UCLA.
Gustini, Lucas Churchill, Alonzo Del Mundo, Christopher Grey, Ian Lonergan and Dylan Penn all bid farewell to the Bears after they were honored as part of senior day celebrations prior to kickoff.
In addition to Gustini, Grey also ended his stint with Cal in a memorable fashion. He scored the first goal of the game –– and of his career –– in the 19th minute after Churchill’s through ball enabled the fifth-year senior to split the backline and fire the ball into the bottom corner. It marked the first time in 10 full games that Cal was the team to open up the scoring.
“Lucas got the ball, and I was in open space on the left wing, and then he found me in space,” Grey said. “I took the defender on and then finished outside of my foot. … We played well. In the first half, we dominated them. The second half was more of a struggle, but overall, it was a good performance.”
After the final matchup of the season, the question thus stands: What’s next for the Bears?
Looking back on the season, Cal endured a multitude of ups and downs. The first weeks of the regular season looked to be a bad omen for the blue and gold. After pulling out wins against Dixie State and UNLV, Cal dropped seven straight games, including consecutive losses against Oregon State –– the Pac-12 champions –– and Washington by a combined score of 5-0. Since halftime of its duel against Santa Clara, however, Cal outscored its opponents to the tune of 6-4. Head coach Kevin Grimes believes that stretch exemplifies what the Bears are really like as a team.
“I see the last four weeks is the team that we really are, and I find us advancing into the spring segment and in great form and advancing into the summertime workouts in a much more consistent way,” Grimes said. “We’re as good as anybody, and we were just dealing with the pandemic and mother nature here. I don’t think there’s anything to do with talent … skill or ability.”
While the Bears can partly attribute the state of their season to reasons beyond their control, Grimes has indirectly levied a challenge to his team.
Next fall, there likely won’t be a pandemic accompanied by the number of virus cases the team experienced. The stormy weather delays and game cancellations that impacted the final weeks of the regular season may have been an anomaly, and we shouldn’t expect that to happen in exactly the same fashion.
This all means that next season will be a chance for the blue and gold to truly put their talent, abilities and skills to the test. They will have a full offseason to prepare, but the following year will give us an answer as to whether the Cal of the last four weeks will resemble the Cal of beyond.
Ali Fazal covers men’s soccer. Contact him at afazaldailycal.org.