There’s another kind of football – some would say the real football – on campus this fall, and unlike the game played with pads and minimal use of foot on ball, a long and consistent history of success is expected to continue.
Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams play their games at Edwards Stadium, both play in the very competitive Pac-12 and both have their sights firmly set on the familiar trip to the NCAA tournament. And both should deliver both wins and excitement to those who come and watch.
The Cal men's team started the season with a very challenging schedule, going 1-2-1 in the first four games, dropping a pair to current #1 team Notre Dame and #4 Indiana.
The men’s team has been to the NCAA tournament 11 of the past 15 years, but after graduating 11 seniors in 2014, last season’s 9-6-2 record didn’t earn the Bears trip number 12.
“There was a lot of youth on the field,” says coach Kevin Grimes, “and soccer is an unforgiving game.” In a game where each goal is so important, one mistake is often the difference between victory and defeat.
But, as the saying goes, the best thing about freshmen is that the next year they’re sophomores, and last year’s growing pains should pay off in 2016. “The biggest jump for players is between the freshman and sophomore years,” says Grimes, and he’s expecting a great leap forward this fall.
Still, two seniors – there was only one senior on last year’s roster – will carry much of the load this year: striker Christian Theirjung and right back Nick Limos. Jose Carrera-Garcia, a junior, will anchor the middle of the field, and sophomore Jonathan Klinsmann will step in at goal after taking over late last season. Another senior, defender Nick Lima has led the scoring so far with three goals.
And yes, Jonathan Klinsman is the son of national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and Grimes is excited about his potential. “Johnathan came in highly touted,” says Grimes, “but it took him eight or nine weeks to find his form. When you come back as a sophomore, though, it’s a piece of cake.”
What isn’t a piece of cake, or even a taste of frosting, is the brutal Pac-12. “UCLA is always the most talented teams, but the other five teams are close,” says Grimes. “Every game you can pretty much count on being a one-goal match.”
On top of that, the preseason schedule was filled with three former national champions – UC Santa Barbara, Indiana and Notre Dame – plus always tough local rival St. Mary’s, who the Bears tied, 1-1. “There’s no better preparation for the NCAA tournament,” says Grimes, but of course the Bears have to get there.
History says their chances are pretty good, however, and Grimes feels his “Barcelona-esque” style of play and experienced young talent should combine to make it 12 NCAA trips in 16 years this fall.
The Cal women have jumped out of the gate quickly, starting 5-1, including a four game win streak and an impressive 4-0 victory over #15 Texas Tech. their only loss came to perennial power and 21st ranked Santa Clara. The Bears will square off against St. Mary's College in Moraga on Friday at 1:30.
Perhaps most impressive about the Cal women's start is their defense, with goalie Emily Boyd giving up just a single goal in Cal's OT loss to Santa Clara on the season. The defense has allowed only 14 shots on goal so far in the first five games.
The women’s record of success is even more impressive than the men’s, with 15 straight seasons of postseason play, and coach Neil McGuire feels improvement is likely from last year’s 13-6-2 result.
Granted, the Bears lost four key players, and McGuire says “We had some exceptional performances,” but he also feels the 2016 roster has a little more to offer. “This year’s team is more athletic and more dynamic,” he says, but concedes “it’s less experienced.”
Still, a host of talented freshmen are on hand to bolster the returning talent, which is led by Pac-12 Player of the Year Arielle Ship, who scored 14 goals. Kelly Fletcher and Emma Fletcher (a member of the Canadian National Team) will handle the middle, while backs Indigo Gibson (Canadian U20 National team) and Annia Mejia (Mexican National Team) will work with third-year goalie Emily Boyd to control the opposition.
Junior MF Kelly Fitgerald has stepped up to lead the team with seven point so far with three goals and one assist, followed by senior forward Ifeoma Onumonu, with three goals and six total points.
That opposition, though, will be tough, and Stanford, USC and UCLA will be the primary Pac-12 contenders. In addition, McGuire has lined a tough preseason that includes Santa Clara, Texas and Texas Tech. “We’ll know in the first three or four weeks what our strengths and weaknesses are,” he says.
If the past is any guide, however, the Bears’ strengths will outweigh their weaknesses, and come November, Cal will be participating in its 16th straight NCAA tournament, and looking to make a deep postseason run.