Nigerian professional soccer. Just about every team in that league is only able to win 1 or 2 road matches with the lone exception winning 3. That's the league with the biggest home-field advantage, although many would probably point to this as a sign of corruption rather than anything else.
Still, the home-field advantage numbers from European top tier soccer leagues also suggest a stronger correlation between playing at home and winning than the typical professional league in the US. There is a fractional more goal effect for teams playing at home.
The Golden Bears would love to have this same effect in their favor on Saturday afternoon against the visiting Maryland Terrapins in a battle of the 4th overall seed (Cal 14-4-2, 6-3-1 Pac-12) and 5th overall seed (Maryland 15-3-5, 7-1-3 ACC) of the NCAA Men's Soccer tournament. In a season where they have already achieved a program first in being ranked 1st in the country (Bears held that mark for 6 weeks this season), the Bears would love to add making their first College Cup (NCAA Soccers "Final Four") to that the list of achievements.
Standing in the Bears' way are the Maryland Terrapins who are quite familiar with trips to the College Cup as they are looking for their 2nd in a row and 8th under their current head coach. The ACC winner (the tournament this year did take place in the nearby Germantown, Maryland...since I am stressing the importance of the home-field) is also an experience squad that made it to the national semifinals last year before falling to Georgetown.
Cal vs. Maryland History
The Bears and the Terps apparently have only met 5 times in program history, all of them coming in the last 5 years. This is mildly surprising to me because it does feel like that Cal and Maryland have met quite a few times since I became aware of the rivalry, apparently all the meetings have only happened since 2008 (one year after I have started graduate school at Maryland), and I have watched 4 of the 5 matches either in person or online. The record for Cal in these 5 meetings have been 2-3 with the Bears winning the two matches in California (a win down at UCLA in a tournament and earlier this year in Berkeley) while losing all three matches at Maryland.
In 2008, the Bears played the Terps first down at UCLA. The Bears were victorious with a 1-0 win. The Terps did get there revenge, however. In the NCAA tournament, the Bears drew the Terps in the 3rd round. In the first NCAA Soccer match that I have attended, the Terps got the game winner late in the 2nd half for a 2-1 home victory en route to a NCAA Championship that year (2008 was also the year when Cal Football fell just short playing in College Park). In 2009, the Bears traveled to the DC area to open the season. In a pretty heavy down pour for most of the match, the Bears got an equalizer in the 2nd half to push the match to overtime. The Terps got the winner, however, in the first OT to beat the Bears 2-1 again. There was a pause in the rivalry until last year when the Bears again traveled to College Park for a match. In the most lopsided loss of the series (and more rain!), the Terps got a 6-0 win on the Bears. Somewhat fortunately, this beating appears to be an outlier. Turning things around the Bears is the 2nd match of this year for both team (which I watched on the Pac-12 Networks). Let's look at the scoring breakdown.
|1.||13:46||CAL||Birnbaum, Steve||Casiple, Seth||15 headed in goal from 10's corner kick|
|2.||46:12||UMD||Schillo Tshuma||Patrick Mullins||23 blasts in cross from 15's assist, from 15 yards|
|3.||50:35||CAL||Bonomo, Stefano (1)||Casiple, Seth; Case, Mason||passes by 18 and 10 find Bonomo far post, slams it home from close|
|4.||78:04||UMD||Jake Pace||(unassisted)||20 blast from 24 yards,deflection off defender but still 20's goal|
|5.||96:10||CAL||Sundly, Alec (1)||Birnbaum, Steve||corner by 10, 15 headed shot deflected into path of 11, who scored|
It was a back-and-forth affair with the Bears always ahead, which was huge as this was a match between the unranked Bears and the 2nd ranked Terps. Steve Birnbaum got on the board first off a set play (corner kick). Maryland somehow got two long distance goals. The game winner in OT for the Bears was off another set play and was scored by Alec Sundly. The Bears did manage to hold the Terps' leading scorer Patrick Mullins to just an assist.
Sure, 5 game is fairly small sample size, but the take away is that the home team have fared well in this series with most matches decided by just an one goal margin. Maybe there is something to this whole home-field advantage thing.
Kevin Grimes is in his 14th season as the Cal Men's Soccer head coach. The 5-time Pac-10/12 Coach of the Year has a record of 153-91-35 record at Cal. The previous best year for the Bears was 2010, which ended in the quarter-final round (same round that the Bears are currently in) when the Bears lost at top overall seed Akron in the penalty shootouts.
One of the coaches with a more impressive resume than Grimes is Maryland's Sasho Cirovski, who is in his 21st season. He guided the Terps to the National Championship in 2005 and 2008 and 7 times to the College Cup (1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2012).
MAC Hermann Trophy Contenders
The reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner is Maryland's striker Patrick Mullens, who bypassed a professional contract with the MLS to comeback for his senior year. Mullens is the team's leading goal scorer with 16, including the lone goal in the Terps' 1-0 win over UC Irvine in the last round. He has 44 goals for his collegiate career.
The Bears have their own MAC Hermann Trophy contender in senior defender Steve Birnbaum. Birnbaum has 10 goals for the season and plays a huge role in leading the Cal defense. There may be many occasions when Mullens and Birnbaum might face head-to-head on Saturday. In the same argument that he might deserve the MVP trophy for how the team fared without him, the Bears were without Birnbaum for the Washington and Stanford matches late in the season and lost both of those (and the Pac-12 title). Fortunately, Birnbaum now appears to be completely healthy in the NCAA tournament.
Other players to note
The second fiddle for the Bears offense is probably fellow senior in Alec Sundly who has 9 goals on the year. Sundly has now scored 4 consecutive matches. Sundly has the lone goal for the Bears against Washington and Stanford (on a penalty kick). Against the Bradley Braves, Sundly has two goal and an assist on the third (scored by Birnbaum). Sundly also scored the game winner against Coastal Carolina last week.
Here is Sundly's 2nd goal from the Coastal Carolina match:
The second part of the Maryland scoring tandem is Schillo Tshuma. Tshuma had a goal against the Bears earlier this year with 6 total. Maryland's Jake Pace also has the same offensive output as Tshuma, same total of 6 goals and 1 assists. Pace also scored against the Bears as well.
Between the pipes for the Bears will be sophomore Alex Mangels. Mangels has started only late in the season but have played quite well. He recorded 5 saves each for shutouts in both of the Bears' postseason wins. Countering the Bears from the opposing net is freshman Zack Steffen. Steffen had a couple fantastically acrobatic saves against UC Irvine last week. The key take away here, however, is that the Maryland defense allowed some good looks to the oppositions.
In short, this one has a making of a close and exciting match, and the difference will likely come down to a very small margin. Can the Bears home crowd somehow exert themselves and maybe influence the referee into giving them a possibly controversial call of a foul inside the box (like in the Stanford match at home earlier this year)? That kind of outcome may just be what determines who will advance to Philadelphia next week.
All these talks about the advantage of not having to play 3000 miles from home, the Bears would have to do that to win the national championships. Let's worry about that if/when we get there after Saturday.
When: Saturday, December 7th, 1:30 PM PT
Where: Goldman Field at Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, CA
(Free) Online stream: Pac-12 Digital (a link has emerged on CalBears.com, Pac-12 Networks apparently only have one soccer crew and have opted to broadcast the Washington-New Mexico match instead)
Tickets: Adults $10, Seniors (65 and older)/Students/Youth (12th grade and under): $5
GOAL ON YOU BEARS!
Swimming at the AT&T Winter National Championships
December 5-7 in Knoxville, Tennessee
Results: Swim Meet
Online stream: USA Swimming (includes the finals of previous days)
Both the men and women Cal swim teams are competing at the Winter National Championships this weekend. This competition is not limited to just the US Nationals, however, and follows the NCAA format to give the team some familiarity of that. The meet also include plenty of Cal alumni, with Nathan Adrian and Natalie Coughlin among those who have already recorded wins in day 1.
Natalie Coughlin won the 50 Free.
The Cal women have jumped out to a very, very impressive first day on Thursday night.
Here is the team point total after day 1:
1. University of California, Berk 132
2. Nation's Capital Swim Club 106
3. SwimMAC Carolina 57
4. University of Louisville 42
5. Univ. Of Michigan Swim Team 39
More videos! Here are Missy Franklin and Liz Pelton talking about Coach Teri McKeever, etc.
Missy swam the 500 Free (not one of her usual event) and finished a close 2nd behind Katie Ledecky.
The Cal men have also had some success, but is currently 5th (although team results doesn't really matter that much as individual results).
Coach David Durden is featured in an article at USA Swimming.
I don't think we are planning to have open threads for this competitions but I will have a wrap up post of this event next week and keep people informed of any world record possibly being set by a Cal Bear.