Firsts usually deal out more questions than answers. In the blink of an eye, a situation can go from peachy to pear shaped and one is often left wondering how, exactly, those pear shapes appeared.
First day of school, first day of work, first day of skipping class. Firsts are interesting and potentially disastrous times. Mistakes are made.
For Cal men’s soccer, though, that may be a blessing.
Despite goalkeeping slip-ups and the blatant lack of a goal-scoring touch, Cal finished the weekend with an opening win against Omaha and a draw against nationally ranked UC Irvine.
If this was truly the floor for Cal men’s soccer, then the ceiling could be spectacularly high. If the Bears make some small improvements, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
Cal triumphed 1-0 over Omaha. After the visiting Mavericks’ Martin Veys hit the crossbar early on, the Bears’ defense swallowed up the opposition attack, preventing any real opportunities throughout the rest of the game.
Omaha stayed disciplined and packed the middle of the park, with their zone defense easily turning away set pieces. The blue and gold quickly turned to the wings and fullbacks Christopher Grey and Simon Lekressner.
Paolo Carrillo-Weisenburger scored the only goal of the season opener, coming off the bench with immediate impact. The true freshman sent a delectable long ball to Alonzo Del Mundo on the left wing, curling his pass across the field while under pressure. Del Mundo carried the ball in, and his low cross found Carrillo-Weisenburger open behind the defense with the entire net ahead of him.
“It was a great ball,” Carrillo-Weisenburger said. “He (Del Mundo) cut it back, all the defenders were running to the near post. … I ended up holding my run to the top of the box and getting the ball, taking the touch and finishing near post.”
Lucas Churchill would go on to hit the post in the 36th minute, but the Bears were unable to tack on any extra scores and carried a 1-0 lead into halftime.
Cal continued to dominate at the beginning of the second period, but Omaha created the next real opportunity.
Goalie Drake Callender’s only blunder came in the 78th minute. After failing to clear the ball, the senior was forced to foul Veys. Referee Christopher Calderon wasted no time in pointing to the penalty spot.
Veys had been a thorn in the Bears’ side for all 90 minutes Friday night, demonstrating classy plays in the midfield. His spot kick was less than sublime, though, and Callender spared his own blushes and saved the penalty and the game with a low dive to his left, letting Cal off with a 1-0 victory in their season opener.
“He could have gone the other way, but I had a gut feeling that he was going to go to my left, so I trusted myself and just made the save,” Callender said.
Sunday saw the Bears host in-state opponent, UC Irvine. The Anteaters opened the season ranked No. 25 by the United Soccer Coaches Poll, a significant step up from Omaha.
After impressing against the Mavericks, Carrillo earned himself a starting spot and impressed again. Several other freshmen made their mark, as striker Arman Samimi started both contests and Tommy Williamson and Fahmi Ibrahim saw playing time.
Cal began the game with a hard press, outplaying the Anteaters physically and dominating the middle of the field. Midfield workhorses Del Mundo and Taylor Davila were particular standouts and UC Irvine ceded possession to the home side. Despite crosses galore and their control of the game, the Bears were unable to capitalize, missing that all-important last touch.
Noah Texter took Callender’s place in goal and put in a mixed performance. The redshirt senior gave the home crowd reasons to both cheer and fear as he switched between excellent close range saves and ghastly errors.
Those mistakes proved costly, and at the beginning of the second half, UC Irvine’s Beto Alvarenga snatched a rebound and turned it home with a tricky backheel.
That aside, Texter still proved himself as a solid choice between the sticks. The 2018 All-PAC-12 third team keeper made eight saves, many at close range and, with one exception, cleaned up his mistakes nicely. While Texter struggled with the ball at his feet, he was a near wall in one-on-one situations.
Chances slipped away from Cal as the game wore on. Francisco Perez’s well-timed volley flew wide and JJ Foe Nuphaus’ close-range header bounced on the wrong side of the post. But drama always finds a way, and late in the second half, it would again be a freshman saving the Bears.
Davila picked up the ball in the center circle and pulled his head up, sending a perfectly placed through ball to substitute Ibrahim. The true freshman’s shot was blocked into the path of a sprinting Williamson, who turned the tying goal home.
Overtime saw opportunities for both teams, but UC Irvine looked tired and disheartened after seeing a victory sneak away. The Bears scoring woes continued, and Cal’s six overtime shots were unable to break the deadlock.
Miscues in front of goal, on both attack and defense, haunted the Bears all weekend. Even then, Cal managed two positive results.
“It’s early in the season, everybody is trying to find their form, their perfect technique,” summarized head coach Kevin Grimes. “Everybody is still competing in themselves to get their top form.”
If the Bears find that “top form,” this could be a season for the Cal faithful to remember.