In an unanticipated upset on Sunday, Nov. 23, home field advantage was not enough for the No. 1 Stanford men’s soccer team to prevent No. 21 UC Irvine from advancing to the third round of the NCAA tournament. In an overtime conquest, the Anteaters scored over the Cardinal, setting the score at a heart-wrenching 1-0.
“We found a rhythm here in postseason. Four of our last five games have been shutouts. We’ve only conceded 2 goals in five games so I am super proud of the defensive effort for the collective team. It’s hard work. Defending is hard work. Today we had a defensive midfielder scoring the game winner. If you look at our stats we’ve got goals that have come from all different positions – defenders to midfielders to forwards – and we’ve got a nice blend of players and a good balance,” UC Irvine head coach Chris Volk said.
Knowing that their fairy-tale season had ended just a single game after securing the Pac-12 championships, the Cardinal trudged off the field after the long, hard-fought battle. Because they were awarded the 6th overall seed in the 48-team competition, Stanford received a bye that advanced them to the second round to face UC Irvine, who had beaten UNLV 3-0 in the first round.
A light, warm breeze blew across Cagan Stadium as about a thousand fans lined up to watch the decisive match. With the temperature at about 66 degrees Fahrenheit, the game day weather was so pristine that no one could have foreseen the unfortunate outcome.
The Cardinal started off strong as Stanford senior forward Zach Batteer made the first shot within the first minute of the game. Controlling the match from the beginning, Stanford held possession of the ball for the majority of the contest. The Stanford offense generated intense pressure as UC Irvine goalkeeper Breslin Michael was forced to stay on his toes to make three saves. Stanford outshot UC Irvine (11-9) and had an advantage in corner kicks (7-3). The only problem for the Card was not being able to find the back of the goal.
“We had the better chances throughout the game. We had five clear-cut chances that could’ve easily gone in. We’ve put ourselves in a position to win but didn’t quite drive it home tonight…We can be proud of the way we played. We played a great game and we did enough to deserve the victory until we gave away one chance,” head coach Jeremy Gunn said.
In the 10th minute, it seemed as if the Cardinal obtained a point when Stanford senior defender Jimmy Callinan kicked a low cross from the top of the penalty box to Batteer, who redirected the ball into the net. The play, however, was ruled offside, negating the point.
As the clock reached 90 minutes, the game entered overtime. Stanford, which has been undefeated this season in overtime, began strong and held control; however, the Cardinal were unable to capitalize on their opportunities.
“Overtime games come down to fitness. We haven’t lost an overtime game in I don’t know how long. A game like that is decided with a flip of the coin… Sometimes it doesn’t work out how you expect it to,” said Callinan.
At the 96th minute, the Anteaters’ midfielder Michael Sperber forced a turnover in midfield. Dribbling the ball downfield, Sperber passed to Anteaters’ forward Cameron Iwasa, who turned and gave a pass-back to Sperber. Sperber scored with a shot into the bottom right corner of the goal, securing a spot for UC Irvine to move ahead in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re losing tremendous seniors who have put their heart and soul into the program. But we know we’ll be back. We’ll be one of the best teams in the country in the future, no doubt about it,” said Gunn.
Although the season has come to an end for the Cardinal, the 2014 Pac-12 champions have a bright future ahead as they are expected to return next season with a determined mindset to advance far in NCAAs.
Contact Elizabeth Trinh at etrinh ‘at’ stanford.edu.