Senior Moment

Thursday's Game Marks End of Lengthy History Between Cal Seniors and Their Stanford Friends

Photo: Anthony Avalos is one of seven seniors that will be playing their final home game of the season on Thursday against Stanford.
Victoria Chow/File
Anthony Avalos is one of seven seniors that will be playing their final home game of the season on Thursday against Stanford.

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The Cal versus Stanford rivalry is something bigger than just two games.

For the No. 10 Cal men's soccer team (11-2-3, 7-1-1 in the Pac-10), it represents the evolution from a friendly game between friends to a battle of superiority on the soccer field.

Seniors like Davis Paul, Hector Jimenez and A.J. Soares have friendships that run years-deep with some of the players in the red jerseys across the Bay.

Thursday's 2 p.m., match at Edwards Stadium will close the chapter on Pac-10 play for both squads. It will not only end conference play but also mark the culmination of those friendships that started on club teams as kids and have grown into collegiate soccer competitions.

"When you are a freshman, you are playing against your friends," Paul said about playing his Cardinal friends. "Separation, rivalry of schools and the seriousness of college soccer has made the rivalry more serious. Now, we don't talk for weeks before the game."

Growing up in Southern California, Paul and Jimenez both played with Garrett Gunther, Dominique Yahyavi, Cameron Lamming and Ryan Thomas. The years spent together wearing the same jerseys on the same teams ended freshman year. The pool of recruits that coaches Kevin Grimes and Bret Simon wanted to choose from must have included the same names. The former teammates were then forced to make a choice between the Bay Area rivals.

In fall of 2007 players stood on a different side of the field as their friends. That first game, when the current seniors were in the nascence of their Cal careers, the Bears fell to the Card, 1-0.

Despite clinching the Pac-10 that year, the loss to unranked Stanford changed where Cal was seeded. After playing UC Davis at home for the first round, the squad traveled across the country to play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

Last year, the Bears' high expectations in the preseason were prematurely dampened by a series of unfortunate events that came with injuries that sidelined players like goalkeeper David Bingham and midfielder Ted Jones.

Heading into the final game versus Stanford of the Cal's down season, the Bears were sitting on a six game win-less streak.

The rivalry, despite the records, disappointments or previous performances in the season, managed to provide enough incentive for Cal to defy the odds.

Defender Jacob Wilson's goal in the 21st minute of play put the Bears on the scoreboard early. The lone goal went unanswered for the rest of the match, despite the pressure put on the healthy Bingham in the net, forcing five saves total. The physical battle saw a total of 32 fouls and five yellow cards between the two teams.

"Every game, regardless of records or expectations, it is always going to be a huge, physical battle between the two of us," senior co-captain A.J. Soares said.

The win seemed to pull the team out of the mire of losses that ruined the Bears' season. According to Paul, Cal returned the favor for the loss the Card served the Bears two years previously.

Although Cal was not among the 48 teams selected for the NCAA tournament, the upset surely changed the dynamics of Stanford's seeding and kept it out of the top 16.

This season's Pac-10 opener at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium was no exception to the competitive history of the teams.

A little more than 10 minutes into the contest, Stanford goalkeeper Jason Dodson got taken out of the game with an injury. He wasn't the only one to leave the field as a fallen soldier.

After 90 minutes of play, 20 fouls and changes in Cal's lineup to accommodate Steve Birnbaum's injury, the score read 3-0. The Bears had blanked the Card.

"The 3-0 goal line doesn't reflect how close the game was," Soares said. "We were fortunate enough to get the goals we got, but the game was very close. It was definitely not a blow out."

Since securing that opening win against Stanford (8-9, 4-5 in the Pac-10), the Bears have rolled through their season with only two losses.

While Thursday's game brings the regular season to an end, it serves as yet another opportunity for this rivalry to drastically change each team's season.

Stanford is mired in a very disappointing, inconsistent campaign, while Cal is on the verge of clinching the Pac-10. Thursday will serve as the culmination of four years of collegiate soccer and a life's worth of the world's game.

"When it comes to Stanford, you have to play with pride in the jersey," says Paul. "I couldn't think of a better way to go out. Win or lose, we are going to give it our all."


Kelly Suckow covers men's soccer. Contact her at [email protected]

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