Sunday’s game against UCLA saw a good number of people showing up on the crisp autumn afternoon to watch the Stanford men’s soccer team’s last home contest of the season. With Senior Day as a perfect backdrop for what promised to be a cracking game, the Cardinal seniors were eager to lead their team to its fifth consecutive home win against UCLA in their final outing at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. However, the Cardinal was outmatched, falling 3-0 to the Bruins.
Stanford was coming off a very convincing performance against San Diego State on Friday and had all the confidence and momentum in the world going into the tough matchup against the Bruins. The freshmen had their coming out party on Friday; now it was time for the seniors to shine.
From the very start, however, a very impressive-looking UCLA team took control of the game and never looked back. The first half saw Stanford struggling to keep up with the Bruins’ tempo on the ball. After an uneventful first 13 minutes, the Bruins struck as Stanford’s defense was caught out of position. A through-ball found an unmarked Victor Chavez, who had the time and space to place a cool finish past sophomore goalie Drew Hutchins.
Less than a minute later, disaster struck again as a low-driven cross from Bruin midfielder Eder Arreola hit senior right-back Adoni Levine, who put the ball into his own net and gave the visitors a two-goal lead. At that point, head coach Bret Simon knew it would be difficult to get back into the game.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole early in the game,” Simon said. “Against an experienced opponent like UCLA, you just can’t do that.”
The Bruin powerhouse kept churning out chance after chance, showcasing their dominance and making clear to everyone why they’re ranked No. 8 in the nation.
Stanford looked dangerous on a few occasions after the goals, but the Cardinal failed to pick up where it left off against San Diego State.
After the break, Stanford looked more aggressive, creating a few opportunities in the opening minutes but failing to convert pressure into goals. After 57 minutes, the game was put beyond all doubt, as Bruin defender Shawn Singh scored a somewhat special goal from 30 yards out, bending an intended cross into the far upper corner.
Minutes later, Stanford senior midfielder Taylor Amman got a great scoring chance on the right side after a good Cardinal attack, but the shot and subsequent rebound fizzled out and amounted to nothing. In the end, UCLA could bag a comfortable three-point victory—the team’s first at Cagan Stadium since 2005—thereby manifesting its position as the best team in the conference and extending its perfect conference record to 9-0. After the game, Simon was sad to see the seniors going out with such a bad loss.
“I am disappointed for them; we really wanted to send them off in a better manner,” he said. “It’s a team that we’ve beaten the last several years here at home, and their starting 11 was virtually the same as a year ago. Sadly, they happen to be playing very well this time of year.”
Friday’s game against San Diego State was quite a different story. The Aztecs came to Stanford looking for a win to give them a chance to climb back into contention for the NCAA Tournament. They will surely be disappointed after surprisingly being sent home with nothing but a metaphorical kick in the groin from the Cardinal, as Stanford won 4-1.
“We went up against a very good team with many talented players,” Simon said. “I’m very happy with our display today.”
An enthusiastic Stanford team took a good quarter of an hour to settle down and start chipping away at the Aztec defense, but once the Cardinal train started rolling, it seemed unstoppable.
Sophomore midfielder J.J. Koval kicked the Stanford machine into gear after 16 minutes with a beautifully curled low free kick that snuck in by the right post. It took the Aztecs only four minutes to respond, as junior forward Ata Ozbay ripped an amazing shot from 35 yards out to beat Hutchins high.
The Cardinal didn’t let up, answering promptly as senior midfielder Garrett Gunther was rewarded with a penalty kick after taking the ball past four opponents before being brought down. He slotted it home to put Stanford back in the lead after 20 minutes.
If Sunday was Senior Day, then Friday was Freshman Night: Stanford’s impressive trio of freshman forwards—Felipe Noguerol, Jimmy Callinan and Zach Batteer—were in the game together in the first half, impacting the action immediately. Noguerol scored his first goal of the season on a rebound from a Batteer cross only three minutes after being subbed in, and Callinan occasionally dominated in the midfield for the Cardinal. Simon didn’t seem at all surprised at his young pupils’ impact.
“They’ve been coming along very well,” he said. “They’ve been training hard and have come close to making a big difference in numerous games this season. Today is just the first game where they all pulled together and helped carry the team. I’m very happy for them.”
In the second half, the Cardinal clung on to its lead fiercely, retaining the upper hand in the game and putting more shots on goal than the Aztecs. The freshmen kept up their good performances, and five minutes before full-time a good attack orchestrated by Callinan set up Noguerol for a shot which was deflected by the goalkeeper. Senior midfielder Dersu Abolfathi was first to sniff out the rebound and scored his third goal of the season, effectively wrapping up the win for the Cardinal.
Stanford now travels across the Bay to face California in its last game of the season. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. on Friday in Berkeley.