Welp, this has been a tough week for Cal Men's Soccer. Similar to the script on Friday, Bears found themselves down early in this one. No.3 Washington was able to score on the very few opportunities that they got. Before you know it, the Huskies were up 3-0 on the Bears. What was worse, Cal senior goalie Justin Taillole had to leave with a knee injury (he was on crutches on the sideline at the end of the match).
Bears eventually fought back and got a goal back before the half. Continuing to push and getting quite a number of shot attempts (and shot on goal), the Bears couldn't find a 2nd goal until the 86th minute. After yet another good look, the Bears find themselves on the short end of a 3-2 decision to Washington yet again.
This loss has eliminated the Bears from the slim conference title race. The Bears will probably also drop out of the top 10 following being swept by both of the Pacific Northwest school on the season.
To redeem themselves, the Bears will get the chance to possibly deny Stanfurd of the conference title next Sunday afternoon at 1pm. Hopefully both Justin Taillole and freshman Paul Salcedo (who had to limp off on one leg in the 2nd half) can be fit enough for that one (or recovery in time for the NCAA tournament).
No.7 California (10-4-1, 4-3-1) vs. No.3 Washington (11-4-1, 4-3-1)
When: 1 pm PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Oops, maybe I jinxed the Bears on Friday with my Golden Medals column focusing on the Bears' conference title chance.
Both Cal and Washington had the control of their destinies with regards to winning the Pac-12 title this year at the beginning of the week. Losses by the Bears to Oregon State, after a valiant effort to go from two goals down to equalize in the 88th minute only to lose on a crazy goal with just 12 seconds left, and by the Huskies to Stanfurd (2-0 Furd) have basically slashed those hopes (Stanfurd still has control but they do have to come to Berkeley next Sunday, if they don't lose to the desperate OSU Beavers team who needs these wins to solidify a postseason berth).
Nevertheless, the Bears still have two huge games left on the regular season with No.3 Washington today and a probably top 10 Stanfurd squad next Sunday. Currently sitting at No.5 in RPI before the OSU loss, the Bears should be able to stay in the same RPI range with a W today. A top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament means home field advantage until the College Cup.
Friday's loss to Oregon State was the Bears' first setback at home on the year. The Golden Bears will look to regain their home field mojo and improve on the now 6-1-0 home record. Bears would also love to avenge for the setback up at Seattle to open Pac-12 play.
Golden Bears still have the highest scoring offense in the conference. Although #drop3 goals was not enough on Friday (and consequently the Bears #drop3 points in the Pac-12 table), the Bears have shown the ability to score on anybody. In fact, the Bears' 2.67 goals per game is still the top in the whole country. Against UW, the Bears face the only top 5 scorer in the conference that does not play for the Bears (Bonomo with 9 and Hallisey with 8 for the Bears) or the Oregon State Beavers. UW's Darwin Jones scored twice in the Huskies' 3-2 win over the Bears back in the beginning of October. The key for the Bears today is to contain Jones.
Cal has remain near the top of college soccer world for the second consecutive year. This year's squad is a very nice blend of impact freshmen (Joshua Morton, Paul Salcedo, Jose Carrera-Garcia) and newcomer (transfer Trevor Haberkorn) and seniors (goalie Justin Taillole, strikers Stefano Bonomo and Omid Jalali, and playmakers in Connor Hallisey and Seth Casiple). I'm not saying that the window for a NCAA title in men's soccer is closing, but that is quite a few seniors (who have the experience of last year's Elite Eight run to boot) to replace next season.
Anyhow, we should enjoy this team in today's match, next Sunday's home match against Stanfurd, and whatever else home matches that the Bears will get. While chances are great that Coach Kevin Grimes is bringing in more impact guys to keep the Bears as a national title contender (yeah, the Pac-12 does have a spotty record in the NCAA tournament to date but that's a different story), I'll cherish this team that has the ability to beat anyone in the country.