M. Soccer: Missed opportunities, bad bounces define 2011 season

Nov. 17, 2011, 1:50 a.m.

After an action-packed couple of weeks that saw the Stanford men’s soccer team dismantle and blow out a ranked opponent, lose heavily to the conference champions on Senior Day and shut out and dominate its fiercest rivals on the road in the last game of the season — all before its coach of 11 years resigned — the Cardinal now goes into hibernation for the winter. That’s not to say that the players will be slacking off, but after an intense (albeit shortened) season, it’s time to take a little break, eat some turkey and ace those finals.

M. Soccer: Missed opportunities, bad bounces define 2011 season
Midfilder Clayton Holz and his fellow seniors had a strong season, but the Cardinal still posted a losing record and a fourth-place finish in the conference. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

The Cardinal got off to a slow start in the opening stages of the season back in late August and early September. After dropping the season opener to Santa Clara, the team lost back-to-back road games on the East Coast against current No. 5 Maryland and Georgetown. The subsequent five games were played at home in Laird Q. Cagan Stadium, where the Cardinal notched convincing wins against then-No. 15 Kentucky and Vermont as well as a savory shutout of Harvard, which came in front of an elated sell-out crowd of nearly 2,000 during New Student Orientation week.

These triumphs were, however, disrupted by a surprising loss to Lehigh and a close match against San Francisco that ended in a draw.

Sitting with a mediocre 3-4-1 record at the halfway point of the season, having trouble finding the back of the net on the road and performing below the lofty standard fans have come to expect of Stanford’s athletic teams, the Cardinal was certainly not looking like the contender for an NCAA Tournament berth that it hoped to be. Junior defender Hunter Gorskie admits that the team had mixed feelings going into the second half of the season.

“Thinking back, you’re 3-4-1 out of the conference, which isn’t ideal; you want to have a winning record going into conference play,” Gorskie said. “But we were coming off two great wins against Vermont and Harvard, teams we had gone down to away last year. Those are matches that feel really good to win for redemption reasons, and they boost morale, so we were pretty confident going into the SoCal games.”

So the Card traveled south riding a high wave of confidence and momentum that naturally ensues from back-to-back victories at home. Ranked opponents UCLA and San Diego State proved tough competition, though, as the Cardinal was shut out in both games and blanked on the road yet again.

Gorskie underlines that the team wasn’t wasting too much energy on the goal drought, however.

“We didn’t really think about it,” he said. “We were just going out and trying to play well, and it just wasn’t working for us for a while. We were playing well, though, and knew that the goals would come.”

Broken and beaten, the team returned to Stanford for games against Cal, Washington and Oregon State. A stellar free kick from junior forward Adam Jahn was enough to seal a close 1-1 draw against the arch-rival Bears, and the Cardinal picked up a split while hosting teams from the Northwest — the Huskies proved too fierce while the Beavers got their teeth kicked in.

A road trip up the Pacific Coast for rematches the subsequent weekend would yield little in terms of points, as the Cardinal was swept and any postseason aspirations were shattered. But a small light at the end of the tunnel could be found in Taylor Amman’s goal against the Huskies — the Card’s first away goal of the season — which set up an interesting backdrop for the season’s last away game at Berkeley.

The Cardinal then turned its attention to seeking revenge against the Southern California teams in Stanford’s last few home games of the season. An outpouring of Cardinal goals saw San Diego State come down hard to an uncharacteristically well-playing Stanford outfit in a 4-1 blowout win at Cagan Stadium — perhaps the Cardinal’s biggest upset of the season. A tough loss to Pac-12 champion UCLA on Senior Day put a dent in the pride of some of the seniors, yet they would soon redeem themselves.

Last weekend, on the last day of the season, the Cardinal rolled over Cal in a match that saw freshman forward Zach Batteer, senior midfielder Garrett Gunther and Jahn each grab a goal in the decisive victory.

After the game, Gunther and Jahn respectively won All-Pac-12 first team and second team honors. Gunther finished the season as the team’s top scorer with five goals and two assists for 12 points, two ahead of Jahn’s 10. When asked to summarize the season, which ended with the Cardinal (6-10-2, 3-6-1 Pac-12) placed fourth in the Pac-12, co-captain Gorskie seemed disappointed but optimistic.

“Result-wise, I think it wasn’t good enough for a Stanford team,” he said. “We’re always talking about getting results, winning games and representing the program as one of the top ones in the Pac-12. In that sense it was a tough year. We came up way short of our goals, and that is unacceptable.”

“That being said, I think there were definitely times in the season where — if the ball had bounced our way — things could have turned out very differently,” Gorskie added. “I have a good feeling about next season; we’ll keep plowing forward.”

Which way the ball bounces next year remains to be seen.

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