A sellout crowd is already expected to fill the stands at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium on Sunday when the men’s soccer team takes on California, but much more than mere bragging rights will be on the line in this year’s annual clash.
Both teams had nearly identical, and somewhat disappointing, starts to the conference season–the Cardinal (3-6-1, 0-2 Pac-12) and Bears (3-4-2, 0-2) both dropped two games on the road at San Diego State and UCLA last weekend–and the loser of this weekend’s matchup faces an uphill climb to the postseason with just seven games to play.
Stanford lost three straight games to open the season, but swept Harvard and Vermont in the Stanford Nike Classic to move just a game under .500 at the start of conference play. But since junior Dersu Abolfathi knocked in the game winner early in the second half against the Catamounts, the Cardinal has failed to score a single goal–a drought of over 222 minutes.
Freshman forward Zach Batteer said that a combination of factors has slowed the offense, which has already been shut out six times and has scored just eight goals through the first 10 games of the season.
“The biggest challenge in road games is always the travel and how hard it is to win away from home,” Batteer said. “But specifically against San Diego State, I missed a few chances that could’ve put us ahead, and we weren’t able to put together all the pieces that are necessary to win a tough conference match.”
Cal’s offense hasn’t struggled quite as much, as the Golden Bears have 12 goals in nine games, but their defense has been very porous, conceding four goals in a game twice already and 14 goals overall.
That could mean plenty of opportunities for juniors Adam Jahn, Eric Anderson and Abolfathi to continue their success on the attacking end. Jahn and Abolfathi are tied for the team lead with two goals apiece, and Anderson has a team-high three assists from his new position on the Cardinal’s left flank.
Coach Bret Simon says the team isn’t having trouble creating chances, but rather hasn’t been able to capitalize in the clutch.
“We’ve been creating a fair number of goal-scoring chances, so we’re spending time in training replicating situations we’ve been seeing in games,” he said. “Most importantly, both our players and our staff have lots of confidence that the goals and results are coming.”
But if history tells us anything, it is that nothing will come easy for the Cardinal on Sunday. Stanford has lost seven of its last eight games against Cal, managing just three goals in those games, and it hasn’t beaten the Golden Bears since the current senior class was freshmen. Those stats are somewhat misleading, as the Cardinal backline has allowed one or zero goals in six of those matches, but the offense has been unable to break through, failing to score six times in the previous eight matchups.
Batteer believes the team will benefit from having a couple of extra days off to prepare for the game.
“It’s obviously tough to lose two games in a row, especially conference games,” he said. “That being said, we’ve wiped the past two games out of our memory and are just focusing on our next game against Cal, and we’re all really excited and looking forward to that.”
“I think we need to just play our game. Being at home is obviously an advantage for us, so I think it’s just a matter of outworking Cal from the first whistle and finishing the chances that we get,” Batteer continued.
Kickoff on Sunday is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.