By Jeremy Rubin
No. 5 Stanford men’s soccer (10-1-2, 3-1-1 Pac-12) will kick off the second half of its conference season with a game against San Diego State (3-10-1, 0-7-0 Pac-12) on Thursday in a Halloween night matchup, followed by UCLA (5-8-2, 1-5-1 Pac-12) on Sunday afternoon. This is the second time this season that the Cardinal will face both teams.
Stanford is currently on a three-game win-streak, two of which were wins over San Diego State and UCLA on the road. Against both teams, the score was 0-0 heading into the second half. Junior forward Charlie Wehan scored a clutch goal in the 81st minute to down the Bruins and freshman forward/midfielder Ousseni Bouda provided all the offense Stanford needed against San Diego State. Stanford won both games 1-0.
These two games are indicative of Stanford’s offensive attack this season. Six players have three or more goals in the team’s 13 total matches. Redshirt sophomore forward Zach Ryan leads the way with five goals and the freshman tandem of forward Gabe Segal and Bouda each have chipped in four.
“We have a lot of different options, and on any given day we don’t have to rely on one person,” said head coach Jeremy Gunn. “We’re multi-pronged in attack, and we have lots of different goal scorers.”
This offense was on full display in Stanford’s most recent match, a 2-0 victory over the University of San Francisco on Oct. 23. In less than 45 seconds at the 26th minute, freshman defender Keegan Hughes and Ryan each scored to seal the victory.
In the last three games, Stanford has outscored opponents 4-0 margin with goals coming from three different players.
“When you look at how the goals have been spread around — if you’re trying to scout us, you’re going to have to talk about a lot of people if you want to stop us,” Gunn said.
Stanford opened up conference play against the two current top-two teams in the division, No. 7 Washington (14-1-0, 7-0-0 Pac-12) and Oregon State (7-5-1, 4-2-1 Pac-12). The Cardinal fought hard in both contests as each one went into double overtime. Stanford, however, was unable to come away with a victory, losing 2-1 to Washington and tying 1-1 against Oregon State. These matches dropped Stanford to their current position of third in the Pac-12 division.
With those games far in the rearview mirror, the Cardinal is focused on the present. The team has used the last few weeks to “regroup, refocus and retune what makes us good and now we’re excited to get going with the second half,” Gunn said.
Arguably the most impressive part Stanford’s team thus far has been the defense. Over the course of the 13-match season, the team has allowed just eight goals. Factoring out a three-game stretch in which Stanford conceded six goals, opponents have found the back of the net just twice in the remaining 10.
These last three shutouts have been particularly encouraging for Stanford, as the Cardinal lost star redshirt senior defender Tanner Beason to injury in the Washington game. Beason is the 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year and 2018 United Soccer Coaches First Team All-American. His injury left a big hole to fill, so these recent matches have highlighted many positives.
“The team knows that we want to pride ourselves on being good on both sides of the ball,” Gunn said.
On the defensive end, this starts with redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Thomas. Allowing just 0.64 goals per game to go along with his 36 saves, Thomas has been a force as the last line of defense.
Against San Diego State and UCLA, two teams that sport a combined 1-12-1 record in Pac-12 play, the Cardinal hope to continue their winning formula. A stout defense, potent and varied offense and clean sheet are all keys to success.
“[The team is] very organized and disciplined,” Gunn said. “I think when you look at keeping clean sheets, it’s not just about a great goalkeeper and a back four — it’s about a team mentality.”
Heading into the second half of the Pac-12 season, Stanford will focus on what they can control.
“We just take care of our business and it puts us in a good spot,” Gunn said.
With two winnable games this weekend, Stanford will take each one as a new challenge.
“It’s always about us: what we can do to execute and what we can do to play our best soccer,” Gunn said.
Kickoffs against San Diego State and UCLA are scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., respectively. Both will take place at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Contact Jeremy Rubin at jjmrubin ‘at’ stanford.edu.