There’s always a silver lining: Once you hit rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.
Unfortunately for Bear fans, Cal men’s soccer has proven that age-old adage horribly wrong. It hit rock bottom and instead of heading back up, it decided to move sideways. The Bears are now 0-3 in the Pac-12 after facing losses to SDSU, UCLA and now Stanford.
The matchup became a goalfest for Stanford, with the Cardinal scoring in the third minute and racking up multiple goals during the first and second halves. Ousseni Bouda, the Cardinal’s forward, was the focus of great envy for Cal fans — Bouda found his opportunities to score through holes in the blue and gold’s defense, totaling two goals and two assists by the end of the game.
The Bears were awarded a penalty kick in the second half of the game: Sophomore forward Nate Carrasco took the penalty kick and managed to send it into the back of the net. However, the goal was left unrecorded as a Cal player was called by the referee for rushing into the box during the kick. Carrasco was allowed a second attempt, but by that point Cardinal keeper Matt Frank had gotten a read on the forward and kept the scoreboard empty on the Bears’ side.
Surprising considering their 5-0 loss, the blue and gold were actually favored heading into the match. The records of both teams were practically identical — Stanford suffered losses against UCLA, SDSU and Saint Mary’s and tied against San Jose State, a near replica of Cal’s statistics. With Stanford’s shot on goal percentage at .424, comfortably below Cal’s .473, not even head coach Kevin Grimes could have predicted a five-goal takeover from a team whose on-goal average was lower than their own.
“We have got six days of practice over the next eight days,” Grimes said as he prepared for the showdown against the Cardinal. “We have got a lot of training ahead of us which is great. … We will try to utilize that as much as we can and improve.”
If aiming for improvement was the goal, much like the Bears’ attempts at scoring, the target was missed.
For several seasons, Cal has been known for its ironclad defense. However, the defensive line left much to be desired, as even the center-back could be seen trying to get up to the goal to equalize the score. This pattern left redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Collin Travasos as quite literally the last man standing. In a sea of forwards with no defender in sight, Travasos managed to get the first touch on Stanford’s shots, yet the bounce-off (intended to be received by his defense) was not deflected because the entire back of the field insisted on fighting near the front line.
These are patterns the Bears will likely focus on remedying as another battle against a Pac-12 opponent swiftly approaches. Their next match is scheduled for Oct. 7 against Oregon State.
The last time the blue and gold met Oregon State, the Bears walked away with a 1-0 win, even though Cal lost to the Beavers 4-0 earlier that same season. Cal fans can hope that this is a sign that the men’s soccer team is capable of redeeming themselves, even after a tragic loss.
The season has been going in an odd and unpredictable direction for the Bears. They’ve lost to teams that were deemed beatable while tying or defeating their tougher opponents. How the Bears fare against Oregon State — a team that has been playing fantastically this season — is impossible to predict. However, the Beavers recently came out on top against the Bruins and the Aztecs, both teams which handed Cal losses on a blue-and-gold platter.
Oregon State outshot SDSU 19-4 and UCLA 16-9, further proving that the Bears’ defense needs to get its act together, or else the team could finish 0-11 in the Pac-12. The back line that Cal fans know and love needs to make a reappearance, otherwise the Beavers’ 2.25 goals-per-game average could make the blue and gold’s mere 1.00 fare worse than it already does.
Whether the Bears take their 5-0 loss against Stanford as a reason to try harder or a reason to give up is a contentious subject. If the past serves as any precedent, fans should hold onto hope as long as they can — there might not be much to grasp at in the future.
Maria Khan covers men’s soccer and football. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.