Not every David vs. Goliath story goes according to plan. But this one did.
On Sunday night in front of a sold-out Cagan Stadium crowd, No. 21 Stanford women’s soccer (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) took down the Chinese National Team — the 16th ranked national team in the world — 1-0 behind a late goal from junior midfielder Maya Doms.
“It was not an easy match, the Chinese Team is a phenomenal team,” said head coach Paul Ratcliffe. “We had some periods where we were on defense and we had to stay together and really work hard.”
Early on in the game, Team China kept the pace of the game slow, maintaining possession predominantly in Stanford’s half. Both teams combined for only 11 shots. For comparison, the Cardinal, alone, sent off 18 shots in the first half of their Thursday night game against Sacramento State.
“[They] are very skillful and very intelligent soccer players,” Ratcliffe said. “They spread out the field and they were keeping possession, really making you chase a little bit.”
With things not shaping up the way the Cardinal would have hoped, they used halftime to regroup and strategize. When the players took the field in the second half, Stanford looked like a completely different team.
“We went into halftime and we talked about all of the things we couldn’t quite figure out on the fly in the game,” said junior forward Samantha Williams. “We figured out our rotation, we figured out that once we win the ball we have to keep the ball, otherwise we’ll just be on defense the whole time. And I think we got a hold of that in the second half and then we were able to dictate the game a little bit more.”
In the second half, Stanford saw more opportunities and controlled the ball for longer stretches. Ratcliffe made frequent substitutions, enabling the Cardinal to pursue opportunities with a fresh breath of life. Nineteen different Stanford players saw the field on Sunday night.
“With a lot of great depth on this squad, the level doesn’t drop,” Ratcliffe said. “Sometimes it increases because people are fresh, so we were able to get some good players subbed in there and it made a huge difference.”
Timely substitutions proved to be the difference-maker. After the game took a turn and things got chippy late in the second half, the whistle sounded for five hard fouls in as many minutes. Ratcliffe responded by throwing in a new unit in the 80th minute, which included freshman forward Lumi Kostmayer.
It was Kostmayer who shielded her defender in the 84th minute and won the battle for the ball before dishing to Doms, who took one touch and then rocketed a shot from past the box to break the stalemate.
“My passion came out,” Doms said. Her goal followed a stretch of rough play in which she was fouled. The physicality seemed to put a charge in Doms. “I have a pretty short fuse but I just care a lot.”
Earlier this week, Doms became one of 60 players named to the Hermann Trophy Watch List, an award that recognizes the nation’s National Player of the Year. Her goal was all Stanford needed, as the Cardinal composed themselves to hold onto to the exhibition victory.
Sunday night’s game continues a strong start to the season for the team. But despite the magnitude of the win, Ratcliffe made sure to tell his players to keep their heads on straight.
“Realize how good we can be, but we have to remain dedicated,” Ratcliffe said, describing his postgame message to the team. “Continue to work hard, continue to grow, learn from this game. There’s a lot of aspects of this game we can learn from, but a great start to the season if we can continue to build.”
Next, the Cardinal will hit the road for the first time this year as they take on the University of San Francisco (1-0-1, 0-0 WCC). The game is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. PT in San Francisco.