Nov. 27, 2012
BERKELEY - CalBears.com recently caught up with men's soccer coach Kevin Grimes to talk about the 2012 season. Now in his 13th year as head coach of the Golden Bears, Grimes discussed a variety of topics, including his team's improvement from 2011, his seniors' pro prospects and what he's been up to since the end of the season.
CalBears.com: This year's team produced a winning record of 8-7-3 and a Pac-12 record of 3-5-2 to improve on the 2011 records of 3-9-5 and 0-7-3 in the conference. To what do you attribute the improvement?
Kevin Grimes: The improvement of the team became evident in the spring season. We saw our younger players maturing week by week. We saw our level of play lift in the spring as well as when we went to Italy in the summer. You could simply see the maturity and the growth of all the younger players on the team. We all had a good feeling coming into this season that it was going to be a successful year.
The injury of senior defender Steve Birnbaum was certainly a setback for the group. But I felt that everybody responded well, and we put ourselves in position to make the postseason all the way till the end of the regular season. Considering what we went through last year and the injury to Steve, all in all I think it was a pretty good season.
I think the plan for Steve is to try and recover from his injury as best he can, and our hopes would be that he would be returning to the field in the fall of 2013.
CalBears.com: Cal men's soccer teams have a reputation for a great style of play. How did you feel about your team's style of play this year?
KG: Cal has had a reputation these past 13 years of playing a very sophisticated and entertaining style of play. Our game requires a ton of skill, a ton of ball possession and players executing at speed at all times during a match. That's always been the signature of our program and why we've had all these great players come to Cal over the years. They want to come here because of our style of play. It takes time to get a team that dedicates itself to ball possession, to creativity, to free-flowing play in the attacking third to manifest. It's not something that will happen overnight. But it's the way that we play, the way that Cal has always played and the way we will always play. When we find our ultimate rhythm, which we saw moments of this year, there is a great connection of our style of play. Once we get that down more consistently, I believe the level of play will rise even further.
CalBears.com: What are the pro prospects of your seniors?
KG: Five of our six seniors have aspirations to play professionally. All of the seniors who have those aspirations - Tony Salciccia, Ted Jones, Kyle Lunt, Michael Munoz and John Fitzpatrick - are all going through the process right now of going to individual team combines. There are other combines going on in December that are more focused on showcasing yourself in front of European teams. We'll be waiting patiently to see if any of our guys will be invited to the MLS Combine in January.
CalBears.com: You started out with three co-captains in Birnbaum, Jones and Salciccia. With Birnbaum on the field for only 15 minutes this season, how did Jones and Salciccia fare as team leaders?
KG: Anthony and Ted both did a great job. Obviously we would've liked to have a third captain on the field in Steve, but Anthony and Ted were able to fill that void with great leadership throughout the season. This situation also allowed younger players to fill that void and put that responsibility on them to lead as well. It's really everyone's responsibility to lead; not just the captains and not just the seniors. We have to impress upon that to all the players - it's as much their responsibility as it is to trap a ball cleanly. It's vital to our success. We will continue to work on that aspect throughout the spring season and next fall as well.
CalBears.com: Sophomores including left back Christian Dean, who also played centrally in defense; Seth Casiple, the 2011 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year who improved on his freshman year with seven assists; Kevin Peach, who was steady in his first full season as the starting goalkeeper; and Stefano Bonomo, who emerged as a goalscoring threat, improved in 2012. Does that sophomore class point to a bright future for the Golden Bears?
KG: You can see the growth in all those players from their freshman year to their sophomore year. Kevin Peach and Stefano Bonomo in particular - those guys raised their level significantly from freshman to sophomore years. Seth had an outstanding freshman year and an outstanding sophomore year. While he had growth, we saw the growth process really come into fruition more for Stefano and Kevin. With Christian coming off an injury, he was not able to train in the summer, and that set him back a little bit. He didn't feel 100 percent till near the end of the season. But he did a great job fighting through some pain and aggravation and did it without complaint. He has a bright future the next two years.
CalBears.com: Bobby Sekine - another sophomore who had been a central midfielder - was pressed into service as a central defender. Was this the first time he played that position? How did he do?
KG: This was the first time Bobby ever played center back to my knowledge. To be thrown back there in the heat of the moment was not easy for Bobby. But it takes a strong-willed person and someone with a strong character to change a position at a moment's notice and do that for the team, but that's what he did. He did an admirable job. You can always count on Bobby to give us a very solid effort every match. Players felt very secure with him back there. If we have to play him at center back in the future, we'll do that without any hesitation.
CalBears.com: Eight of your team's games appeared on the Pac-12 Networks in their inaugural season. What is the biggest benefit of the Pac-12 Networks to your program?
KG: The biggest benefit that we've seen so far is that there are so many people we run into that are watching Pac-12 soccer on TV, which is unprecedented up till this point. I run into people every week that say they saw games on TV all across the country. This brings so much more exposure to our team, our alumni to our future recruits. There's nothing but positives that have come out of the Pac-12 Networks.
CalBears.com: What have you been up to since the end of the season?
KG: Since the season ended, I've been recruiting almost non-stop and will continue to do so till the end of November and pick up again in the middle of January. We'll just concentrate more at that point on preparing for our spring season - getting our spring schedule finalized - and our annual banquet. We've got probably four of our games already scheduled, and we're hoping to schedule an international match as well.