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Golden Medals: Cal Men’s Soccer Preview

The MLS player factory program, our sturdy Golden Bears, seeks the College Cup glory of those South Bay rival.

Golden Bears will kick off their season against West Virginia on August 25th from the friendly confines of Edwards Stadium
Cal Men’s Soccer Twitter

Reminder, Cal Women’s Soccer will kick off their season, and the 2017-18 school year for Cal Athletics, today against UC Irvine at 5 pm PT from Edwards Stadium. The Bears will also host Santa Clara on Saturday, August 20th, at 1 pm PT.

Surpassing my guarded optimism for this upcoming Women’s Soccer season, Top Drawer Soccer has the Golden Bears 7th in the nation in their preseason poll - helped largely by the No.3 ranked incoming class to join the already very experience and arguably elite defense. Consistency, which has always plagued the Bears - thanks to some inexplicable 1-0 losses to lesser teams in the Pac, will again be the key to the season’s success.

For Cal Volleyball fans (preview is coming next week), the 1st Blue and Gold scrimmage under new head coach Matt McShane will take place tonight at 6 pm PT from Haas Pavilion.

Cal Field Hockey will also have their 3rd scrimmage on Sunday at Underhill Field. Be sure to go check out the finally completely renovated Underhill this year, now that it is no longer BYO seat.

Cal Men’s Soccer seeks return to NCAA tournament in partial rebuilding year

Twitter: @CalMSoc (Note the change from @CalMensSoccer)

2016 Finish: 5-10-2, 1-8-1 in Pac-12 (all 9 decisions were by just one goal though)

Key departures:

Seniors Christian Thierjung, Nick Lima, and Trevor Haberkorn will be hard to replace. They along with the graduated Trevor Long (forgoing his last year of eligibility) who scored one goal accounted for 15 (9 by Thierjung, 4 by Lima, 1 by Haberkorn) of 26 goals scored by the Bears in 2016. Lima is now starring for the San Jose Earthquakes as their starting right back. Thierjung, the top scoring option for the Bears in the past couple of season, was drafted in the 3rd round of the MLS Superdraft and is also now playing pro soccer.

Starting goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann also turned pro after a successful run with the USA U-20 squad this summer. Klinsmann, son of Jurgen, joined Hertha Berlin of the Bundesliga during the summer. Unfortunately for Jonathan, he suffered ligament damage in his right ankle in training and will be sidelined for weeks to start the season.

Key returnees:

Jose Carrera-Garcia is the longest tenured player on the team and the leading returning scorer with 6 goals and 5 assists last year (13 goals and 20 assists on his career). He will be helped in the offense by junior Paul Salcedo-Borrego (4 assists in 2016) and senior Aravind Sivakumar (1 goal, 4 assists in 2016). Sophomore forward Spencer Held (2 goal, 1 assist) and senior defender Joshua Morton (who also scored 1 goal last year) will also be back as returning starters. Not showing up often on the scoresheet but still a key member, midfielder/defender Ugo Rebecchinni is also back. Rebecchinni and Carrera-Garcia are the co-captains.

Off the field, senior Sivakumar is doing great things as a computer science major at Cal, getting some experiences with local startups in his down time. Kudos to him for being a fine example of a Cal scholar-athlete.

Key newcomers:

There are 6 newcomers to the squad. Forward Tommy Williamson will see opportunity to fill the opening left by Thierjung. Defender Christopher Grey and forward Alonzo Del Mundo both have experiences playing together as a part of the San Jose Earthquake Academy.

2017 Outlook:

In his 18th season at Cal, head coach Kevin Grimes have produced a ton of MLS goalkeeper talent. Maybe it is not so worrisome that the Bears will have to break in a new full time starter. Sophomore Drake Callender started a few matches last year (when Klinsmann had national team obligations) and will likely be the new starter. Freshman goalkeeper Chris Gustini and junior Noah Texter (who got the starter’s number of No.1 this year) may also be in the mix.

Golden Bears will miss the playmaking ability of Nick Lima in 2017, but chances are still good that the Bears will outscore the 2016 team - who were seemingly extremely unlucky to not capitalize on more goals, particularly against some top Pac-12 competitions (those were the matches that are broadcasted on the Pac-12 Networks).

For most of Grimes’ Cal tenure, a good player always take a big leap forward with the greater opportunity and offseason training. Who will that be in 2017 for the Golden Bears? My guess would be forward Spencer Held and defender Joshua Morton. Watch for them to show up more in the scoresheet this year.

With some luck, the Bears will get more points in the Pac-12 table this year. Given the strength of the Pac, just draws can give the Bears a decent RPI and allow the team to be in the running for one of the last few NCAA tournament spots in 2017 in the best case scenario.

Truth is, Cal Men’s Soccer is often predictably cyclical in peaking every few years when a class of players all figure it out together. I thought that peak was going to be last year...and the Bears only managed 5 wins. It is hard to see this Cal teams being better than the last year’s group, but they might just exceed that result because the bar is set so low. I would like to think the Bears can return to the NCAA postseason before 2019/2020.

Thoughts on the new kit: So far, the biggest embrace of the new Sather Stripe on the uniform has got to be Cal Men’s Soccer. The new Cal kit will prominently feature a vertical Sather Stripe down the middle of the front for both the home white and the road blue kits. I loved the old diagonally stripe of the recent Nike Cal kit and would have preferred that over this (IF you have to have that Stripe in such a prominent manner).

The keeper will have the script “California” on the chest. No kit will feature the script “Golden Bears” unlike the Cal women’s kit. Frankly, I prefer the cleaner look of the Cal women’s kit better, but the Cal men’s kit may grow on me.

Rest of the Pac:

There are only 6 teams in the Pac-12 men’s soccer conference - one of them, San Diego State is just an affiliate of the conference. The other 5 are Cal, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon State. Teams play a true home-and-home against every other conference foes - which is one of the now unfortunately rare true conference title left.

The main problem for the Cal Bears in 2016 was conference play, where the Bears went 1-8-1. Part of that is due to the strength of the Pac-12 conference. Despite having a pretty strong squad, Bears had to play Stanford (No.2 in RPI), Washington (No. 9 in RPI), UCLA (No.23 in RPI), and San Diego State (No.34 in RPI) twice (all 4 made the NCAA tournament, of course). Oh, Stanford also managed to win it all by beating Wake Forest via PK in a scoreless College Cup championship match. It was Stanford’s 2nd consecutive NCAA championship and their 2nd title overall.

By the way, in case you missed it: Pac-12 won both men’s (Stanford) and women’s (USC) soccer championships in 2016. Conference of the Champion! (Even if it’s the two schools that I despise the most).

Unfortunately, Stanford are again expected to be quite good (and Jordan Morris graduated in 2015!). They are the preseason No.1 who will be seeking a three-peat. Washington and UCLA are also ranked.

Stanford will again have seniors forward Foster Langsdorf and defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce to lead the way for them. San Diego State’s sophomore midfielder Pablo Pelaez is also a player to watch in the conference.

Again, the margin between Cal and these ranked teams in 2016 was not that big (one goal in all 8 losses). Can the Bears close the gap between themselves and the rest of the Pac in 2017?

Danger level of being cut (reluctant new addition to all my previews for the 2017–18 season):

High. Cal Men’s Soccer found their name being mentioned on the list of Cal sports programs being potentially cut. As a male non-revenue nor aquatics sports, that is perhaps not too surprising. Nonetheless, every Cal men’s team should be looking at building a big endowment to feel safe. Maybe the team can raise some money by selling the kits to fans directly (Cal Baseball has done something similar in their fundraising bids). Are there still some of the old Nike kits available still?

Maybe the MLS Bears, and there are quite a few of them too, can help raise both awareness and money to the program. This is a program that was vying for the national championships with back to back Elite 8 years within this past decade. With how soccer is growing in the US and the program being such a MLS factory, I would think it is in USA Soccer’s best interest to support the Cal program as well.

Of course, the easiest way for Cal fans to support the program is by showing up to Edwards Stadium on Fridays and Sundays. Fans should savor the fact that Edwards Stadium still exists because of the potential plan to turn it into dorms and relocate the team (to a “to be determined” place).

Yikes...let’s just all be appreciative that Cal has a men’s soccer program in 2017. Remember how in the 2010 and 2013 seasons, the Golden Bears were legit national title contenders and Stanford has not have any College Cup championships? Those were the days...