Six Schools in Six Days: California Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 22, 2005
With six starters returning from Cal's successful 2004 lineup, the Golden Bears could be on the brink of one of their best seasons in Cal history, vying for their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament berth. Sixth-year head coach Kevin Grimes will look to his veteran seniors, all of whom were 2004 postseason honorees, to lead the Bears into yet another NCAA tournament.
Last season marked the fourth year in a row that Cal earned an NCAA tournament berth. It's 2-1 first-round overtime win over No. 17 Santa Clara was Cal's third postseason victory in school history. The Bears finished the regular season tied for second in the Pac-10 at 4-3-1, concluding the year 13-4-3 overall.
While Cal loses six seniors from the 2004 squad, it retains six experienced seniors and welcomes back 18 lettermen. First-team All-Pac-10 leading scorer, senior Nick Hatzke, will be forced to redshirt this season after tearing his ACL this past April. He will be missed this season but looks to come back healthy for the 2006 season. Grimes and the 2005 squad also look forward to the arrival of the deep and talented recruiting class, with eight incoming freshmen and one sophomore transfer, all eager to contribute immediately.
We are all looking forward to the 2005 season,' Grimes said. 'The 2004 season we had some great success. Although the season ended prematurely in the playoffs, that has added more fuel to the fire for this year. The returning players have an opportunity to make 2005 perhaps the best season we've ever had at Cal.'
Cal's forward line brings remarkable experience and talent to the field with seniors Pieter Berger and Calen Carr up front. Carr earned first-team All-Pac-10 and first-team All-Academic Pac-10 honors for the second time in his career while contributing five goals and four assists. A first-team Pac-10 All-Academic for the second year in a row, Berger recorded three game-winning goals for the Bears last season, while being named to the 2004 CoSIDA Academic All-District VIII men's soccer team.
The Golden Bears will also be looking for significant contributions from Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention junior Matt Holtrust, sophomore Javier Hill and sophomore Luke Sassano who will also contribute to the midfield.
'Our forward line is very deep and talented,' said Grimes. 'Calen Carr and Pieter Berger have a tremendous amount of talent and experience. We also have a younger core of forwards in Javier Hill, Luke Sassano and Matt Holtrust that add quality depth up front.'
The midfield continues to be deep for the 2005 season, with four returning players taking the field and six newcomers who will be battling for playing time. Although playing time may be hard to come by in the crowded group, Grimes looks forward to the competition it will spawn.
'Our midfield has always been a strength of our team, particularly the depth,' said Grimes. 'We have plenty of players who can contribute again this year. Andrew Jacobson will return this season and Eric Ebert, who made great strides as a sophomore, looks to have a breakout year.'
Junior Eric Ebert, an All-Pac-10 team honoree, had a successful 2004 season starting 19 of 20 games and scoring four goals, three of which were game-winners. Ebert will be joined by sophomore Andrew Jacobson, who will eagerly return to the field this year after spending the 2004 season rehabbing. Playing beside him will be sophomore Luke Sassano, who looks to contribute significantly to the midfield position this year. The midfield will also gain substantial momentum from the highly touted freshmen Michael Nieraeth, Ryan Villalpando, Ian Ebert, Pat Marion, Tyler Barry and transfer Brad Yuska.
After the adjustments made this past spring, this year's back line remains one of the Pac-10's stingiest defenses. The starting back four is comprised of two seniors and two juniors, who have combined for 159 starts and 187 appearances. All-Pac-10 second team Tyson Wahl, anchors the defense, having started every game for Cal during his career. Wahl is joined by fellow senior Angel Quintero, who recorded three assists last season and earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention.
The back four will also be counting on the junior trio, Justin Delacruz, Steve Purdy and Andrew Felder. Purdy, an All-Pac-10 pick, started all 20 games for the Bears and looks to make significant contributions to the defense. Felder was active in six games last season and will look to earn some more playing time this season. Delacruz played in 17 games last season and will look to play a large role in the back line.
Sophomore Jeff Serafini and incoming freshman Kyle Rice will be expected to make an impact coming off the bench.
'The adjustments that we have made this past spring in our back line have turned out to be great ones,' said Grimes. 'With the presence of Tyson Wahl, Steve Purdy and Angel Quintero, our back four hasn't missed a beat. Andrew Felder and Jeff Serafini have also made a significant contribution to the back four.'
Cal is blessed with depth in the net. Four goalkeepers will be competing for the starting job this fall, including two keepers with All-Pac-10 experience.
Returning starter, All-Pac-10 second-team senior Eric Kronberg, provided solid defense for the Bears last season, starting in 19 out of 20 games. Kronberg recorded 61 saves and posted eight shutouts, which ranks fourth in Cal history. Also vying for playing time is junior Mike Oseguera, an All-Pac-10 honoree in 2003, who recorded six saves last season and boasted a goals-against average of 0.70.
Sophomore Justin Myers and freshman Stefan Frei also look to battle for playing time in the goal.
'All four of our goalkeepers have great qualities in their game,' said Grimes. 'This position has the most competition for playing time out of any other on the field.'
For one of the toughest schedules in the nation, one needs to look no farther than Cal. Eight of their 18 opponents were in the 2004 NCAA tournament. Five of Cal's opponents this year finished 2004 ranked in the top 25 in the nation, including UCLA (No. 3), UC Santa Barbara (No. 5), Washington (No. 15), University of San Francisco (No. 19) and Santa Clara (No. 20).
Luckily for the Bears, they found themselves with a preseason national ranking of their own, at No. 20. That ranking will be put to the test throughout the season, as the Bears face three 2004 conference champions, in USF (WCC), UCSB (Big-West) and UCLA (Pac-10).
While Cal must face one challenge after another as they work their way through their 2005 schedule, the Bears are primed for the journey.
'Once again, Cal is going to have a top 10 (in the nation) strength of schedule ranking,' Grimes said. 'Our players and coaches wouldn't want it any other way.'