Bears Making Statements When It Counts

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There's a pesky little thing in sports that can haunt a team beyond the scope of a season. It's the acrimonious title of the Team That Can't Win the Big One. Adorned with the proverbial albatross -- or in this case a squawk-box sports journalist -- it can really plague a squad and even become a chronic and intrusive mindset when it comes to the next big game.

Lesson is, kids, win 'em when it counts.

Now while Kevin Grimes, the coach of the No. 5 Cal men's soccer team, would sooner be caught dead than assigning more worth to one game over another, he's got his team raring to preserve its elite ranking and avoid the title of "choker" at all costs.

Just take its last few Bay Area rivalry games if you don't believe me.

Start with then-No.17 San Francisco, which the Bears played on Sept. 17. Cal earned a dominating 3-0 victory over a talent-saturated Dons team in pursuit of vengeance for a loss to the Bears in the first round of last year's College Cup.

How about the much anticipated cross-bay derby against perennial powerhouse Santa Clara on Sept. 20? Cal didn't miss a beat, sending the Broncos limping home with a 3-1 beatdown.

If you're not impressed by those victories, try last week's game against then-No.20 Stanford in which the Bears came out timid and looked to be the weaker team in the first half.

Despite the slow start, Cal was not to be denied, managing a slim 1-0 victory on an Andrew Wiedeman goal moments into the second half. More importantly, the Bears held onto the victory despite three regular starters injured in the defense, a still-ginger goalkeeper in David Bingham who was one week removed from a hamstring injury and a barrage of Cardinal attacks.

However, hesitance at crowning Cal just yet is understandable. It takes more than three games to truly declare a team among the primetime performers, one might say. Just look at Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets.

So if my humble opinion doesn't do it for you, what about a man who has seen every single Cal team at least once a year since the 1960s and has the soccer expertise of winning two national championships during his collegiate years at USF? That would establish that "credibility" thing, right?

Dons head coach Erik Visser, enter stage right.

"Cal is one of the best college teams I've seen in quite a few years," he said after his USF team got shellacked.

But it gets better for the Bears.

"Their composure, experience and technical ability on the ball is a mark of a truly elite team," Visser continued. "This Cal team is the best Bears team we have faced in many, many years and could be a true final four team."

Maybe Visser just forgot to take off his blue-and-gold-colored glasses before the interview, but this Cal team is for real. It takes a lot to impress an opposing coach, so much that he lets something like that slip in front of a recorder.

Still hesitating to make a sweeping statement about the Bears' future in the capricious world of collegiate sports? I still don't blame you, and neither would the stoic and ever-so-evasive-on-such-topics Grimes.

But just wait for November, and the start of playoff time, and see for yourself.

Tags: CAL MEN'S SOCCER


Tell Chris what you think of his humble opinion at [email protected]



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