By Kit Ramgopal
Stanford men’s soccer’s defeat of the Oregon State Beavers last Sunday added a third 1-0 win to the team’s 2016 Pac-12 record, marking the first time that Cardinal men’s soccer (6-2-3, 3-0-0 Pac-12) has ever opened conference play with three wins.
“It’s a wonderful start,” Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn said. “Every conference game is a tough, tight battle and we’ve just managed to edge it in these games. We’ve gone in with the right attitude, gone after each game the right way and been rewarded. We promised the guys that conference is going to be very tough. There are more miles to go and a lot of tough games ahead.”
When Stanford finished postseason play last year, the team was celebrating its first national championship and its second consecutive Pac-12 championship. However, the Cardinal were also preparing to absorb the loss of five starters, including MAC Hermann trophy winner Jordan Morris, who accounted for 53 percent of the goals and 48 percent of assists from the Cardinal 2015 season.
It’s fair to say that fans of Stanford soccer were bracing themselves for an adjustment period, nursing an unspoken expectation that this season would pale in comparison to last year’s season thanks to the new offensive void in team dynamic.
Yet some of Stanford’s opening performances this season arguably outshine last season’s, at least in terms of certain statistics. In addition to being the the first 3-0 start in conference play for men’s soccer, the opening three games mark the first three-shutout streak in conference action since 2007 and the first road sweep of Oregon State and Washington in over a decade.
These three games didn’t come easy to the Cardinal. Stanford won all three games 1-0, a margin that speaks to the decisive nature of the Cardinal defense and a young team dynamic that occasionally struggles to find its rhythm at the opening whistle. “There’s always a battle to be won in the first half of the game,” Gunn commented on the Oregon State win.
The Cardinal took the first half to find their footing, relying on sophomore Amir Bashti and junior Foster Langsdorf to set offensive tempo with test shots on the Oregon defense and crosses in front of the far post. By the second half, Stanford was dominating most of the play, racking up a 4-1 advantage in shots on goal.
Oregon State’s keeper Nolan Wirth tallied five saves, but was finally thwarted by junior defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce off of an assist from junior Sam Werner during a corner kick in the 105th minute of double overtime. This was Hilliard-Arce’s first goal of the season and second career game-winner.
“Sam’s hit some good balls in and he’s been doing that all year,” Gunn added. “We were actually upset in double overtime because he hit a perfect ball a few minutes before and we didn’t get someone on the end of it, but Tomas was able to do that the second time.”
Stanford’s defense shut down Oregon State’s offensive duo Timmy Mueller and Jordan Jones, who have 40 career goals combined on the season. The defense continued to streamline the statistics of its success on Sunday, lowering its goals against average to .67 from .91. Junior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein recorded his 18th career shutout, third best in program history.
“Our back four were absolutely fantastic against very good attackers,” Gunn said. “We really closed them down very well and Brian [Nana-Sinkam] and Tomas battled well against two players that can bully defenses. We kept it tight and didn’t give them much at all.”
Stanford is 6-1 in its last seven matches, and the men’s team looks to continue its momentum into Thursday’s home match against No.13 San Diego State on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Contact Kit Ramgopal at kramgopa ‘at’ stanford.edu.