The men’s soccer team has dealt with adversity all season long. Several injuries to key players kept head coach Bret Simon from finalizing a consistent roster early on in the season, and four straight heartbreaking losses—two of which came in overtime—knocked the Cardinal from its preseason perch at No. 13 in the national rankings.
Stanford fought its way back to .500 entering Pac-10 play and stunned then-No. 13 UCLA with a late goal at home. But a late three-game slide saw the team’s NCAA Tournament dreams all but disappear heading into the final week of conference play.
Tonight, the Cardinal will head across the Bay to take on its rival, No. 8 California (11-2-3, 7-1-1 Pac-10), in the last regular season game of 2010. At stake for Stanford (8-9-0, 4-5-0) on Veterans Day is mostly pride, as a postseason bid is all but impossible, but Simon says that it won’t be difficult for the players to get fired up for the match.
“This is a big rivalry game, no question,” Simon said. “It’s a measuring stick, as well, because Cal is the highest-rated team on the West Coast, so this should give us a chance to see where we’re at. It’s also important to make a statement for our seniors as well as for our younger players.”
It won’t be easy to send the class of 2011 off in style, however. Cal enters the game on a three-game winning streak and has lost only once in its last 13 matches. The last time the teams met, on Oct. 2, Cal came out of Laird Q. Cagan Stadium with a 3-0 win that was much closer than it appeared on paper.
Sophomore midfielder Hunter Gorskie said that the toughest part of this final game might be playing away from Stanford, even if Berkeley is just across the Bay.
“Going to play at their home facility might be the biggest challenge because it’s always tough to play on the road,” he said. “But it will definitely be a scrap, a fight, and if we are ready for it then we should be okay.”
It will be redshirt senior midfielder Thiago Sa Freire’s last game in a Stanford uniform, and he commented that although this year’s record isn’t stellar, the Card is still a quality team capable of pulling off the upset.
“Cal is definitely a great team, but we’re a real good team too,” he said. “This is our last chance to prove ourselves. We are going to go out there and play our game, and may the best team win.”
History is not on the Cardinal’s side—the last Stanford team to win in Berkeley was the 2000 squad that reached the NCAA quarterfinals. NCAA player of the year Ryan Nelsen and fellow All-American Lee Morrison headlined that team.
“It would be real sweet to knock them off,” Gorskie said. “Obviously we want to go out strong and maybe try to get back at them.”
It will take a strong effort to exact revenge on the Golden Bears, but the game might come at the perfect time for an upset. Cal has played in an astounding five straight overtime games, four of which went into double overtime. However, if the Golden Bears win, they will clinch the Pac-10 title outright and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Kickoff at Edwards Stadium is slated for 2 p.m. this afternoon.