BERKELEY – The fourth-seeded California Golden Bears (13-4-2, 6-3-1 Pac-12) knocked off the Bradley Braves (14-7-2, 3-2-1 MVC) 3-1 on Sunday afternoon at Goldman Field in Berkeley in the second round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament. The Bears were paced by senior midfielder Alec Sundly’s brace and senior defender Steve Birnbaum’s first half goal to advance to the third round of the tournament. Bradley’s Wojciech Wojcik tallied in the first couple of minutes in the second half to draw the Braves within a goal, but Cal stretched their lead to a pair of goals again behind Sundly’s second to pull out the result.
“We would first like to congratulate Bradley on a tremendous season,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “They were the Missouri Valley Conference champions and everybody knows what a great team they are. They were an excellent opponent today, so we are very pleased that we were able to compete and get a good result against such a good quality team.”
Cal opened the first half on the front foot, creating multiple chances early. In the sixth minute, junior defender Christian Dean’s header off of a Ryan Neil corner kick bounced just over the target. Just seven minutes later, Sundly nearly scored a highlight-reel goal, when his scissor-kick attempt off of a well-placed cross from junior forward Omid Jalali went just high.
The Braves had their first quality chance in the 14th minute when Wojcik received a well-played ball in from defender Grant Bell, but Cal goalkeeper Alex Mangels was equal to the task.
Sundly, a Capistrano Beach native, was the recipient of some nice combination play with junior midfielder Seth Casiple, and lashed home the opener in the 20th minute. His shot beat Bradley goalkeeper Brian Billings to the bottom corner of the near post from the edge of the area.
With just ten minutes until halftime, the Bears broke through again on an incredible strike by Birnbaum from about 35 yards out. His effort picked out the top corner of the far post, leaving Billings no chance, as Cal took a 2-0 advantage into the locker room.
“I was lucky enough to have the ball in a lot of space,” Birnbaum said about his 35th minute goal. “Everyone was yelling for me to take a shot, which I rarely do, but I hit it pretty well. It went in, and I was a little shocked and surprised, but it was a really great moment, which was so exciting.”
Bradley came out very strong out of the break, and pulled a goal back fairly quickly, in the 47th minute to bring the score to 2-1. Freshman forward Christian Okeke made a very good run down the line and slid a perfect ball across the face of goal to the oncoming Wojcik, who made no mistake in burying the chance. That marked Wojcik’s third goal in two tournament games, after scoring a pair, including the overtime winner in the Braves’ first round victory at Northwestern.
The Braves threatened to equalize nine minutes later, when Okeke made another slicing run into the area, but his shot was kept out by Mangels, who recorded five saves on the afternoon.
Cal answered back emphatically in the 57th minute, as Sundly collected his second goal of the match. A tremendous run by junior midfielder Connor Hallisey set Sundly up for a cool finish in front of the Bradley goal. Sundly has now scored in three consecutive matches, dating back to Nov. 10 at Washington.
Bradley desperately tried to get back into it, as forward Alon Badat’s header in the 67th minute went just inches over the bar, though it appeared Mangels had it covered. Cal kept pushing forward as well, as junior midfielder Max Oldham had a couple of chances to extend the Golden Bears’ advantage, though he was unable to find the back of the net. The Bears held on for the 3-1 victory
The Bears now advance to the third round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament, and will face the winner of tonight’s Charlotte/Coastal Carolina match on Sunday, Dec. 1. For time and location, please check CalBears.com for the most up to date information on the Bears’ third round fixture.