Many of the key Golden Bears are back for the California men’s soccer team, but this is a new dawn for the program under first-year head coach Leonard Griffin.
The Bears opened training camp with their first practice on a sunny Tuesday morning on Goldman Field at Edwards Stadium. One new wrinkle appeared right away, as the coaching staff ran laps with the players to kick off the day.
“That was different,” said fifth-year senior forward Jonathan Estrada. “But it shows the unity that we have and that we’re bonded. We’re doing drills or running, and they’re doing it, too. It was cool to see, honestly.”
After some instruction from Griffin, new assistant coach Ricardo Gutierrez and returning coaches Jacob Wilson and Henry Foulk, practice concluded with the red team emerging as the victor in a series of small-sided games.
“It feels great,” Griffin said after his inaugural practice as the Bears’ boss. “It always feels like Christmas. You wait to get to this day. It’s always very exciting. To get out here with the group is refreshing. There was some good energy today, and I’m looking forward to continuing the progress of the team.”
While Griffin’s official games as Cal head coach are yet to come, he has spent a good amount of time with the team since he was hired on March 31. He went through the spring season with the Bears and traveled with the squad on its early summer trip to Italy.
Over two weeks, the Bears played four exhibition games against local teams (going 3-1) and did some sightseeing in Rome and Venice.
“It was huge for us to get those extra games and a bunch of practices with our new coach and to hang out and get to know each other,” said redshirt junior goalkeeper Collin Travasos. “We’ve always had a good culture, but I’m pretty pumped about where our team is right now in the locker room and off the field.”
Also in Italy, Griffin had the team engage in team-bonding exercises, including one in which the players read the book “Legacy” and, in small groups, presented PowerPoint presentations to their teammates on specific chapters.
That was another new wrinkle that the players appreciated.
“I had never done that before – reading a book with a team,” Edwards said. “But the book was really interesting. I learned a lot.”
The team is busy on the initial week of camp. Monday included meetings and media day, with the Bears taking team photos and filming marketing video. After two practices on Tuesday, they travel south on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s preseason opener at UC Riverside. They play twice more in preseason – on Sunday vs. Cal State Bakersfield at Pomona-Pitzer College and on Aug. 19 vs. Pacific in Berkeley.
The regular-season opener is set for Aug. 25 at Cal State Fullerton, and Griffin’s first home game as Cal’s head coach is slated for Aug. 28, with the Bears hosting Villanova. Three more nonconference games follow before Cal starts Pac-12 Conference play on Sept. 15 vs. San Diego State on Goldman Field.
Among the other returners are defenders Tate Dolan, Kevin Carmichael and Jack Singer; midfielders Christian Gomez, Juan Martinez and Evan Davila; and forwards Nate Carrasco, Shoei Honda and Wyatt Meyer. Davila led the Bears in scoring last season with eight points, while Singer, Honda and Meyer tied for the goalscoring lead with three goals each. There are six new Bears on the roster, including former San Francisco forward Nonso Adimabua – a two-time All-WCC first-team selection and the 2020-21 WCC Freshman of the Year – along with freshman attacking midfielder Allan Juarez, from the San Jose Earthquakes Academy.
“It’s going to be a very fast preseason here,” Griffin said. “It’ll be good to get the games in. We’ll be able to get a lot of questions answered with the three preseason games, and we just have to manage the load in the times we do get to train and implement as much of the tactical information as possible. By the end of it, we ‘ll be ready to go come Aug. 25.”