Bears Building Chemistry
By Keyon Johnson
Soccer is non-stop running, up and down the field for at least 45 minutes before your first break, then it's back to another 45 straight minutes of running again. In order to be successful, you must have great trust and chemistry with your teammates.
The California Golden Bears men's soccer team understands this concept, and with no influence from the coaching staff, the vast majority of the 2011 team decided to stay in Berkeley this summer to work out together and create the bond and chemistry necessary to be a dominant team.
"This was something that the guys solely did on their own," head coach Kevin Grimes said. "I think what it does is allow them to continue on their progression from the year before, particularly from the spring season. It allowed them to have some continuity and not have a long summer break and go out and play soccer on their own. I think all those things are a good thing for the group."
The continuity appears to have helped as Cal is off to promising start with a 2-0-1 record in exhibition play.
"Our team chemistry is very good," said junior co-captain Steve Birnbaum, who started all 20 games in 2010. "Being together over the summer helped our team to learn each other's tendencies on the field and become a complete unit and has been a big contribution to how we're going to play this year. Summer also helped in the sense of fitness. We are the most fit I have ever seen, and I believe that it will translate into a strong season."
The Bears are coming off a tremendous season last year, posting a 14-2-4 record overall and 8-1-1 in the Pac-10 to claim the Conference championship. They extended the run into the postseason, making it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Cal returns just three of 11 starters from the 2010 team - Birnbaum, junior midfielder Tony Salciccia and junior forward John Fitzpatrick. Six 2010 starters left Cal for Major League Soccer: goalkeeper David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), midfielder Servando Carrasco (Seattle Sounders FC), midfielder Hector Jimenez (Los Angeles Galaxy), defender Demitrius Omphroy (Toronto FC), forward Davis Paul (Chicago Fire) and defender A.J. Soares (New England Revolution).
Birnbaum is Cal's only returning starting defender. He posted career highs in goals (1), assists (5) and points (7) as a sophomore. Salciccia is Cal's only returning starting midfielder from last season, when he notched career highs in goals (3) and points (9).
However, talent begets talent and despite the roster turnover, many see the success continuing for the Bears as they begin the season ranked No. 7 by the NSCAA and No. 14 by College Soccer News.
"We try not to look at the rankings throughout the season, but we are obviously trying to win the Pac- 12," Birnbaum said. "This is a very strong conference and all of the teams are good, so we will focus on one game at a time and hopefully we produce."
Cal's one game at a time mindset begins Friday when they open the regular season by going across the Bay Bridge to face the University of San Francisco in the Bay Classic at 7:00 p.m. Even with the loss of eight key players from a year ago, the Bears will do all it takes to repeat as Pac-12 champions.
"Losing so many talented guys, we're obviously a new team," sophomore midfielder Alec Sundly said. "With all the new guys that we have, we have to still shape our offensive and defensive mainframes. I think this team can make our own name and come the Pac-12 season, do some damage."