The men’s soccer team fought off injuries and sickness on a tough weekend road trip, but still lost two tight matches at UCLA (10-4-1, 5-2-0 Pac-10) on Friday night and San Diego State (8-5-2, 2-4-1) on Sunday. The losses dropped the Cardinal back below .500 on the season, at 7-8-0 overall and 3-4-0 in the Pac-10.
The two defeats pushed the team back toward the middle of a very crowded Pac-10 and likely out of the title hunt. With a 5-1-1 conference record, California controls its own destiny after beating UCLA on Sunday, and the Cardinal sits in third place with just three games remaining in the regular season.
“It was a tough weekend result-wise, and we have put ourselves in a really tough position,” said sophomore midfielder Hunter Gorskie. “We know that we have to take care of business in the last three games to have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
On Friday night in Westwood, over 1,000 fans turned out to watch UCLA battle Stanford at Drake Stadium. The conditions were a little wet and cool, but the rain stayed away and the game quickly opened up as both teams pressed forward and counterattacked often. The Bruins had excellent chances off corner kicks in the first and 12th minutes, as well as a shot that bounced off the crossbar in the 36th minute.
The game also saw the somewhat surprising return of injured goalkeeper Jason Dodson for the Cardinal. A dislocated shoulder and partial fracture had kept the redshirt freshman out of action for the past two and a half weeks, and fellow redshirt freshman Galen Perkins had stepped up and performed well in his absence.
But head coach Bret Simon said that despite being pleased with Perkins’ play, Dodson had again shown he was deserving of the starting job in practice.
“I’ve been really pleased with Galen’s performance over the past few weeks. But if all the goalkeepers are healthy and at their best, Jason has proven he is the No. 1 keeper,” Simon said.
Dodson was forced into three early saves as UCLA outshot Stanford 8-3 in the first half. But the team was still playing well despite the shot disadvantage.
“We came out pretty well and were keeping the ball and sending numbers forward, and playing good defense,” Gorskie said. “We had good energy on defense, and [standout UCLA midfielder] Kelyn Rowe was a non-factor. It was an evenly matched game.”
But in the 72nd minute, the Bruins made something out of nothing. Eder Arreola dispossessed senior defender Cameron Lamming in the back, despite Lamming’s clamoring for a foul, and passed off to Evan Raynr. The UCLA midfielder blasted a shot from 25 yards into the top right corner of the goal past a helpless Dodson.
The already quick pace picked up as the Cardinal scrambled for an equalizer, but UCLA held on for the 1-0 victory.
Stanford came out a little slower in Sunday’s game at San Diego State after the tough loss on Friday night, and the Aztecs capitalized early. In the 27th minute, a Cardinal pass was intercepted in a dangerous position and led to an easy breakaway for San Diego State’s Miles Byass. The highly recruited freshman forward slotted the ball past Dodson, and Stanford was in an early hole.
The team played much better after the break, and nearly broke through several times in the final 20 minutes.
“We fought really hard to try and come back,” Gorskie said. “We had plenty of chances with free kicks and corner kicks, and in the last 20 minutes they were really on their heels—we gave it our all.”
Stanford outshot the Aztecs 8-3 in the second half and forced keeper Brad Byrns into three saves, but in the end came up a bit short in its sixth one-goal loss.
In a league with a large amount of parity this year, Stanford has showed plenty of resiliency. But with only a few games left, it looks more and more like the Cardinal might be left out of the postseason for the seventh time in eight years.
“There are a lot of good teams in the Pac-10 this year,” Simon said. “It’s possible one team will emerge in these last few games as the dominant team, but everybody is so close it’s more likely they will just end up beating each other up.”
Stanford will have three more chances to prove it is worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid, starting with its final homestand this weekend against Washington and Oregon State. Both matches will be held at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.