When working with the metric system or counting on your fingers, 10 seems like a pretty easy and comfortable number. In football, being within the 10-yard line of the end zone is a celebrated accomplishment. For the Cal men’s soccer team, 10 is not so friendly a number. Ten happens to be the count of 1-goal losses the Bears have suffered since the start of the 2016-17 season.
Coming off a disappointing season-opening loss against West Virginia, the Bears will try once again to redeem themselves this Friday against Northeastern. At Edwards Stadium, Cal will have to leverage the home field energy from the crowd to carry itself through all 90 minutes of play — without falling prey to another defeat.
Cal’s loss to West Virginia last Friday wasn’t for lack of trying — the Bears outshot the Mountaineers 14-3. Aside from the sheer number of shots, there were also seven different Cal players who contributed to this total, which is a marker of offensive efficiency.
“We led just about every category that there is in the West Virginia game except the score sheet, so you can’t be too disappointed with how you played,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “You just hope that you continue to play as well as you did, and then you complement that with some good finishing.”
The Bears’ problem is not related to poor defense — West Virginia didn’t get off a single shot in the final 45 minutes of last game — or inability to string passes, but rather lack of confidence around the net and trouble finishing. While Cal might have tallied 14 shots, only 4 of them were on goal, an indication that the Bears need to improve accuracy in the final third.
Moving forward into this Friday, instead of getting caught up in the strategy of its opponent, Cal should use the matchup as a space to focus on its technical skill and team cohesion.
“They have played pretty much flawless soccer since January of this year, all throughout the spring and preseason,” Grimes said. “They are … confident and well-rehearsed in their own self, as a team and as individuals. They know how good they are.”
The last time the Bears faced off against Northeastern was in 2015, when Cal managed to defeat the Huskies 3-0. This is not to say that this Friday will be easy — Northeastern has introduced 11 energetic freshmen onto the squad, where the Bears only have six. Furthermore, unlike Cal, which gains most of its players from in-state, the Huskies maintain experienced players from overseas that add another dimension to the level of play.
Last season, the Huskies finished with a record of 6-11, not far off from the Bears’ 5-10-2. Northeastern, not unlike Cal, was defeated in a lot of close games, but it also recorded a greater number of losses by 3 goals or more. The even matchup should provide Cal an opportunity to hone in on skills it will need to develop for more challenging games to come.
The Northeastern matchup is all about the Bears holding the score low and being focused in the box. If the team continues to average more than 10 shots per game, the goals will start to follow.