When you have hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up — right?
Apparently not. Cal men’s soccer was expected to show up and show out after its excruciating double feature in defeat against UCLA and SDSU. Competing against Loyola Marymount at home, the blue and gold were thought to be recuperating through a calm nonconference game amid all of the Pac-12 pressure. The Bears, until the second half, looked as if they had finally got it together.
Even though this game did not add or subtract anything substantial from Cal’s conference-play record, it definitely led to a lower sense of team morale — especially seeing as the game was going pretty well until an unfortunate goal by LMU came in the 81st minute. The goal broke up a heavily fortified defensive formation. Defense has been the Bears’ strong suit in the past, yet this was the first game where fans truly saw the blue and gold play the way we know and love.
“Defense was very solid today,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “They had to deal with a lot of corner kicks and a lot of shots in their territory, so the defense was extremely solid. We defended for long stretches. When we got the ball, it was hard for us to kind of maintain possession and maintain our ability to go forward because we defended a lot throughout the match.”
Grimes has used unconventional tactics in previous games, such as focusing on the top of the field while letting the defense fend for themselves. Obviously, such methods were not proving to be fruitful for Cal. Aware of that fact, Grimes could be seen reverting to his “patience is a virtue” adage during practices leading up to the Bears’ matchup against the Lions and in preparation for the “Big Clasico” against the Stanford Cardinal on Oct. 3.
Looking to improve offensively and defensively, Grimes hopes to master both ends of the field while simultaneously trying to make sure one doesn’t end up outshining the other.
“We defend for such long stretches against the opponent,” Grimes said. “We are spending an enormous amount of energy tracking them down, chasing them down. When we do finally get it, we are a little bit out of gas, so our turnovers are typically a little bit higher and so forth. And I think we just have not been able to find a time to impose our game onto someone else lately.”
Stanford, the defending Pac-12 champion, has not had a very stellar season. In fact, it mirrors that of the Bears in some ways. Suffering losses against UCLA, SDSU and Saint Mary’s, as well as tying against San Jose State, at first glance, the Cardinal’s record could be mistaken for the blue and gold’s. With both teams scoring nine goals total this season — and with Stanford’s shot on goal percentage at .424 almost replicating that of Cal’s at .455 — this game could be declared a toss-up.
While the Bears could possibly pull out a win, Grimes has been displaying what can only be described as cautious optimism.
“At the moment, we have to focus on us, trying to figure out what’s our best lineup and best strategy,” Grimes said. “They are the defending Pac-12 champions; we certainly have to scout them. They are a very good team, we all know that.”
Players to watch remain potential goal scorers sophomore midfielder/forward Wyatt Meyer and freshman midfielder/forward Shoei Honda. Meyer, who has been known to make an effort in finding space and opportunity, has been starting in the midfield while the newest recruit Honda has been replacing him as time passes in the game. If any goal does come out of the upcoming match against the Cardinal, it is most likely that these two players will be on the delivery end.
For the blue and gold, there might be nowhere to go but up. Yet, hoping for any substantial win can be labeled as wishful thinking, as demonstrated by the Bears’ repeated losses and disappointing playing over the past few weeks. If Cal leaves Stanford clutching a loss, it might prove that once you hit rock bottom, rising up is not the only option — you can also move sideways.
Maria Khan covers men’s soccer and football. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.