This week, Cal men’s soccer hopes to return to Berkeley triumphantly in a series of nonconference matchups. The Bears will defend their home turf at Edwards Stadium against No. 3 Dixie State on Sept. 3, followed by No. 4 UNLV on Sept. 5.
The two matches will mark the first time the blue and gold have ever faced both the Trailblazers and the Rebels. After falling to Saint Mary’s 0-1 and breaking even against UCSB 1-1, Cal has a golden opportunity to prove itself against both non-Pac-12 challengers.
Dixie State’s last game took place Aug. 29 against California Baptist University. The Trailblazers played San Jose State earlier this year and left the match with a loss 1-2. The Bears met with the Spartans during their exhibition series, in which they tied 2-2 during an intensely hard-fought game.
The face-off begins Friday against the not-so-competitive Dixie State. The Trailblazers averaged a total of seven goals this past season while their opponents have racked up 22 goals. This brought their goals-per-game average to a low 0.78 over the course of nine games, as compared to the Bears’ 1.4 over 10 games. Per game on average, the blue and gold lead the Trailblazers 0.05. However, Cal tallied 40 total saves last season as opposed to Dixie State’s 34. Thus, the Bears’ defense may likely be the intended object of their destruction during this upcoming match.
Dixie State, part of the Western Athletic Conference, was picked 10th in a coaches’ preseason poll released Aug. 17. Additionally, the Trailblazers do not have any players on the prestigious All-WAC roster. The team has only scored one goal this season, which was made by junior forward Daniel Brubaker. Its previous lead goal scorers have yet to see any action on the field.
For the Bears, a strong offensive line will be key against the Trailblazers. As previous games have shown, Cal has a reputation of being extremely defensive-minded; yet, this tactic has yet to translate to many wins. Though head coach Kevin Grimes tends to focus on his back line during practices, his tactics this week have been flipped. Many more drills featured the forwards in play, suggesting a new strategy for the team.
“I think we have been focusing completely on defending since we have been together,” Grimes said. “We now have to start working our way into the attack, concentrating and focusing on the attack. We just haven’t spent any time with it, but our defense is very solid.”
After Dixie State, the weekend continues as Cal competes against UNLV. Last week, the Rebels met with UCSD and left victorious in a 2-1 win. UNLV is also scheduled to play Saint Mary’s on Friday, Sept. 3. Seeing as the Bears dropped their home opener, 0-1, against Saint Mary’s on Thursday, Aug. 26, this match may serve as a litmus test for the Rebels’ standing against the blue and gold.
Some Bears to watch out for include redshirt senior goalkeeper Chris Gustini, who has served as an anchor to a stellar defensive line. Two Cal players have also been listed on the National College Soccer Top 100 Rankings; senior defenders JJ Foe Nuphaus and Ian Lonergan made the rankings as published by TopDrawerSoccer. Additionally, both Nuphaus and Lonergan have been listed on the Pac-12 Top Players Ranking as well as senior defender Christopher Grey.
The match against Dixie State begins Friday, Sept. 3 at 1 p.m. Cal will then turn its attention toward UNLV for its meeting Sunday, Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. Will the Bears come out on top, or will their nonconference rivals show their claws?
Maria Khan covers men’s soccer. Contact her at email@example.com.