BERKELEY – The California Golden Bears (14-5-2, 6-3-1 Pac-12) dropped a heartbreaker in the NCAA Quarterfinal to the Maryland Terrapins (16-3-5, 7-1-3 ACC) 2-1 on Saturday afternoon at Edwards Stadium in front of 2,330 fans. Though Cal created some early quality chances in the first half, it was Maryland who led 1-0 at the break, courtesy of an Alex Shinsky goal in the 33rd minute, the first of his collegiate career. Cal equalized just five minutes into the second half, when forward Stefano Bonomo finished on his own rebound opportunity to draw things level. It was not to be however for the Bears, who applied much of the second half pressure, but Maryland midfielder Michael Sauers struck with the gamewinner in the 86th minute from just outside the penalty area with a shot that found the top corner. Maryland advances to the College Cup in Philadelphia to face Virginia in the semifinal on Friday, Dec. 13.
“First, we would like to congratulate Maryland for advancing to the College Cup,” said Cal head coach Kevin Grimes. “It’s not easy to come into Edwards Stadium and win a playoff game, this is the first home tournament loss we have ever had, which shows how tough that is for an opponent. In terms of the game itself, I think we played extremely well in certain spurts, and the amount of chances that we created was more than I thought we would have in a game like this. We had so many chances to potentially grab the lead there in the second half, but it just didn’t materialize. In the sport of soccer, sometimes the chances you create don’t always go in, but I am very proud of the way we played, especially in the second half.”
Maryland created a couple of early chances inside the first quarter of an hour, but it appeared Cal was destined to be first on the scoresheet when forward Luis Fuentes received a through ball in from midfielder Max Oldham. Fuentes’ 19th minute strike from just inside the area beat Maryland goalkeeper Zack Steffen, though the woodwork was unkind, as his shot hit the right post, and came along the goalline to hit the opposite post and stay out.
The Bears threatened again in the 31st minute of play when they had a corner kick. They played it short to midfielder Seth Casiple, who sent a cross into the cluttered penalty area. It eventually fell to defender Christian Dean, but his shot missed the target, going just over the bar.
It was the Terrapins who eventually broke through first though, just two minutes later, off of a set piece. Defender Mikey Ambrose served a ball in to the back post, where it found the head of Shinsky, who made no mistake, burying the chance. Maryland carried the one goal advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Cal came out very strong in the early stages of the second half, as they leveled the scoreline in the 50th minute of play. A cross played in by defender Dylan Serrano found Bonomo at the far post. His header was saved very well by Steffen, but Bonomo kept with it and finished the rebound into the gaping net to draw the Bears level.
The Golden Bears were certainly rejuvenated by the goal, and nearly grabbed the lead on multiple occasions, as they created a flurry of chances. None were better than the chance Bonomo had in the 60th minute. A perfectly weighted through ball by midfielder and co-captain Alec Sundly sent Bonomo in on goal, one-on-one with Steffen. After muscling off a Maryland defender, Bonomo dribbled the ‘keeper, and set himself up for a clear shot on goal. His shot seemed to be headed for the back of the net, but it was cleared off the line at the last moment by a Maryland defender, keeping things at 1-1.
In the 77th minute, Cal nearly grabbed the lead on another occasion, when midfielder Connor Hallisey’s cross found forward Nick Lima at the back post for a glancing header, but it went just wide of the Terrapins’ goal.
Maryland threatened to break the deadlock when the NCAA’s leading scorer, Patrick Mullins came on a counterattack and let a shot fly from about 22 yards out. Cal goalkeeper Alex Mangels made an incredible diving save to keep the score level at one apiece. Mangels finished with five saves on the afternoon.
The Terps grabbed the winner, however, in the 86th minute, when Sauers tallied his fifth goal of the season. He received a ball in from midfielder Mikias Eticha, and left no doubt when it left his foot from roughly 20 yards out. His slicing strike found the top corner to Mangels’ right, and sent the Maryland bench into delirium.
The Bears fought until the end, as they were desperate for an equalizer. They came closest in the 87th minute, when MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist, defender Steve Birnbaum got a head on a cross, but the chance went begging, as his header went just inches high of the Maryland goal.
In the end, Maryland avenged their 3-2 overtime loss at the hands of the Golden Bears back on Sept. 1, pulling out a 2-1 win, and reached the College Cup in Philadelphia to face fellow ACC representative Virginia in the semifinal on Friday.
Cal made plenty of history this season, holding the No. 1 ranking for six weeks, which marked the first time in its 107-year history that the program earned that distinction. They also reached the NCAA quarterfinals for the third time in school history (2005 and 2010), and hosted the quarterfinal for the first time ever. Their fourth overall seed in the NCAA Tournament was also the highest in school history.