Following the departure of several crucial pieces from their Sweet 16 run, Stanford’s men’s soccer team (2-1) began their 2014 campaign looking to build off of last year’s 10-win season and maintain the program’s upward trajectory.
Opening the regular season on Aug. 29 in Omaha, Nebraska, the Cardinal discovered that life after the graduations of J.J. Koval, Drew Hutchins, Ty Conklin and Aaron Kovar would involve some growing pains as they dropped their first regular season game, 2-0, to the Creighton Blue Jays.
Replacing Hutchins in goal, sophomore Andrew Epstein earned his first career start and played the full 90 minutes, and conceded two goals from close range without recording a save.
In a tightly fought match in which Creighton tallied seven shots to Stanford’s six, the Blue Jays were able to take better advantage of their opportunities, scoring in the 11th and 53rd minutes on their only two shots on target.
The Cardinal had their fair share of goal-scoring opportunities, particularly in the first half when junior midfielder Slater Meehan and sophomore forward Jordan Morris each had excellent looks early, while senior defender Jimmy Callinan fired off two shots in the 40th and 44th minutes that went just wide of the goal.
In the second half, Stanford’s saw far fewer chances to attack, recording just two shots in the final 45 minutes. The Cardinal’s best look of the half came in the 80th minute when senior midfielder Eric Verso launched a shot on goal that required a save from Creighton goalkeeper Connor Sparrow.
Despite an inauspicious start to the season, the Cardinal returned to Caniglia Field in Omaha on Aug. 31 to take on the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In a wild game that saw a three-hour lightning delay, Verso netted the game-winner for the Cardinal five minutes into over time — five hours after the opening kickoff at 6 p.m. Central.
Against Nebraska-Omaha, the Cardinal came out with a much more aggressive mentality and launched seven shots in the first half — one more than they took in entire ninety minutes against Creighton. Stanford was rewarded in the 41st minute when fifth-year senior forward Bobby Edwards knocked home his first career goal.
With the absence of Morris, who was called up by senior U.S. Men’s National Team coach Jürgen Klinsmann for a friendly against the Czech Republic, Edwards took on a greater share of the attacking duties and responded with a memorable performance.
Stanford continue to press forward in the second half, but it was Omaha that managed to find the net with their junior midfielder Logan Mendez beating Andrew Epstein in the 68th minute.
Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn was pleased with how his team responded when with the game knotted up in the second half.
“We were pressing to go 2-0 up and would have been more comfortable, but didn’t quite get that lead,” Gunn told GoStanford.com. “After dominance in the first half, Omaha managed to have some counters in the second and got back into the game. Then it’s game on. It was a gut check for the team and they responded well.”
In the 95th minute, Edwards launched a solid strike on goal off of a cross from senior forward Zach Batteer. Omaha goalkeeper Josh Christiensen was there to save Edwards’ shot, but Verso netted the ensuing rebound to give Stanford its first win of the season.
Leaving Nebraska with a .500 record, the Cardinal returned to Stanford Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6 to take on local rival San Jose State. Stanford once again came out aggressive and dominated the Spartans, possessing the ball in the attacking third for most of the game. In total, Stanford recorded a season-high 16 total shots.
Verso picked up right where he left off against Nebraska-Omaha, scoring in the 25th minute off of an assist from Morris, who returned to action after completing his duties with the senior national team.
In the 87th minute, Morris found the back of the net himself when he beat San Jose State keeper Emmanuel Espinosa after receiving a well-measured flick pass from Verso.
Epstein also turned in a solid performance against the Spartans with four saves and recording his first career clean sheet.
Stanford’s nonconference home stand will continue for four more games beginning on Tuesday against UC-Santa Barbara. The match will be televised on Pac-12 Networks at 7 p.m.
The Cardinal will open up Pac-12 play on Oct. 2 when they travel up to Corvallis, Oregon to take on Oregon State.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.