Having started the season with a loss to Creighton (4-0-0) that dropped them out of the top 25, the Stanford men’s soccer team looked to rebound in the rest of its early-season fixtures. Fortunately for the Card, they did exactly that, rattling off three straight victories with a great road win over Nebraska-Omaha (2-2-0) and two comfortable home wins over San Jose State (1-2-0) and UC Santa Barbara (2-2-1).
Three games and three solid performances were capped off by a 4-1 victory over UCSB that was keyed by the three goals in the first 11 minutes. Coach Jeremy Gunn was effusive in his praise of his team after the game, saying, “It was the same mentality that we’ve been coming out with [all season], trying to get into teams.” That mentality served Stanford well in these last two weeks of games, but the Cardinal cannot afford to take their foot off the pedal with games against Delaware and Gonzaga fast approaching.
Turning to the first of these victories against Nebraska-Omaha, it was clear that the Cardinal would not let bad omens deter them; the teams only managed 12 minutes of play before the match was delayed for two and a half hours due to rain. In the end, the match did not resume until 9:20 p.m.
However, Stanford was undeterred, opening the scoring near the end of the first half, with senior forward Bobby Edwards notching his first career goal on an assist from junior midfielder Eric Verso. Although Stanford was pegged back by a goal from Mavericks junior midfielder Logan Mendez, Verso made another crucial contribution by scoring the decisive goal in the first overtime period. He lashed a shot into the roof of the net off Edwards’ rebound, allowing Stanford to leave Nebraska with a 1-1 record that they could be pleased with. Perhaps more impressively, the Cardinal are now undefeated in nine straight overtime games, a span stretching back to a loss to UCLA in 2012.
Having gotten back to .500 with the win over UNO, Stanford’s solid performances continued upon its return home to Palo Alto, with the team picking up a 2-0 victory over the San Jose State Spartans. Verso continued the torrid tear he has been on to start the season, notching another goal and assist, while also showing some brilliant chemistry and interplay with sophomore forward Jordan Morris. A Morris layoff to Verso contributed the first goal of the game, which came midway through a first half dominated by the Cardinal, as Stanford launched eight shots on target and heaped significant pressure on the Spartans’ goal.
“It was a great start and I thought we were really, really good in the first half,” Gunn stated unsurprisingly, having seen Morris as well as seniors Zach Batteer and Austin Meyer all go close before Verso broke the deadlock.
The Verso-Morris connection showed up again in the second half, with Verso this time flicking the ball cleverly with the outside of his boot to Morris, who shot across goal and beat Spartans goalkeeper Emmanuel Espinoza. Overall, the Cardinal got a victory in a match that was never in doubt.
Even coming off such a performance against SJSU, the Cardinal only continued to improve in their fourth game of the season, laying a dominant 4-1 performance on the UCSB Gauchos. The Card blitzed the Gauchos to the tune of three goals before some late-arriving fans had even sat down.
Freshman defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce started the carnage, making a strong first impression by powering in a header from an Austin Meyer corner. Edwards then continued by picking up his second goal in three games after another assist from Verso. Finally, junior midfielder Slater Meehan scored with an impressive volley from outside the box, beating the goalie with a well-struck shot after the ball rebounded out of the box.
Stanford continued to dominate the rest of the first half, although the Cardinal were pegged back by the Gauchos’ freshman forward Ludwig Ahl, with Gunn saying, “The guys were brimming with confidence from the great strikes and it filled them with even more energy.” The cherry on the cake was a wonderful curling strike by junior defender Brandon Vincent, who noticed the Gauchos’ defense was backing off before whipping a beautiful shot into the corner of the goal. The Cardinal could once again be content with a result that was never in danger.
So, what does this mean for the season to come? It would be unwise to overreact to the 3-1 start, especially considering Stanford was favored to win the three games that it won. However, it would be equally unwise to downplay the impressive standard of play that the team has shown, which seems to bode well as the Cardinal move closer to the heart of their schedule.
Contact Dylan Fugel at dfugel ‘at’ stanford.edu.