BERKELEY - Steve Birnbaum played in one game - and just 15 minutes - last season, but the defender returned as a fifth-year senior and capped California's season-opening, 2-0, upset win over third-ranked Georgetown on Friday with a second-half penalty kick. The Golden Bears got goals on either side of halftime, as junior midfielder Connor Hallisey scored from distance late in the first half.
The Bears opened 2013 with a 1-0-0 record, while Georgetown - the 2012 national runner-up - opened with a 0-1-0 record.
In the first half, Georgetown had plenty of possession early and took four shots in the first 12 minutes. But redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Justin Taillole made a save on the first shot – in his first regular-season game as a Golden Bear – and then junior midfielder Max Oldham posted Cal’s first shot, saved in the 20th minute, in his first start as a Bear.
The Bears collected their first goal of the season when Hallisey wove his way through midfield and blasted the ball into the Hoyas’ net from 25 yards out at 40:12 of the first half.
“We had possession out of the back,” Hallisey said. “I just moved into a gap. I got the ball and turned, and I had no pressure. I just dribbled at the backline, and they weren’t stepping, so I just decided to take a shot, and it went in.”
The Bears took that 1-0 lead into halftime.
They doubled that lead not long into the second half.
At 47:31, Cal junior forward Stefano Bonomo dribbled into the Georgetown box before a Hoya clattered into him to set up a penalty kick. Birnbaum – one of three Cal co-captains – calmly stepped to the spot and buried the ball in the back of the net.
That marked Birnbaum’s third-career goal and his first against a team other than Oregon State.
This was also the first game for the 2011 All-Pac-12 first-team selection since Cal’s 5-0 rout of Houston Baptist on Sept. 11, 2012.
“You can’t even describe it,” Hallisey said of the impact of Birnbaum’s return. “That kid, he’ll come on and change a game, just him. He’s the type of individual who can change a season.”
Georgetown posted just three more shots the rest of the game, and the last one – Gabe Padilla’s diving header in the 87th minute – was the Hoyas’ last best chance to avoid the shutout.
Taillole made three saves and GU goalie Tomas Gomez made four saves, and the teams tied on shots, 10-10.
“It feels great,” Hallisey said of the victory. “We wanted to show teams what we have. That’s what we have right there, and hopefully we can keep it going the rest of the season.”
“You can’t even describe it,” Hallisey said of Birnbaum’s impact. “That kid, he’ll come on and change a game, just him. He’s the type of individual who can change a season.”
Cal returns to action on Sunday, Sept. 1, when it plays No. 2 Maryland – the team that Georgetown beat to reach the 2012 national final – at 2 p.m. on Goldman Field.