No. 5 Stanford men’s soccer (12-2-6, 4-2-4 Pac-12) lost to No. 12 UNC Greensboro (13-1-6, 4-0-1 SoCon) in a penalty shootout on Sunday, ending the team’s hopes of a national championship this season.
After cruising to a 6-2 victory over High Point (11-5-5, 5-0-3 Big South) last weekend, the Cardinal were in high spirits. Redshirt junior forward Carlo Agostinelli was named College Soccer News Men’s national player of the week after scoring two and assisting two more, totalling five goals and ten assists on the season.
Stanford started with the same lineup they did against High Point, but this game would be much more of a contest. The first 15 minutes of the match were tight, as neither side could create chances from open play. In the 16th minute, redshirt senior goalkeeper Matt Frank was called into action from a corner, just tipping a powerful header over the bar.
But the Spartans wouldn’t be denied much longer, as they scored in the 21st minute with a cutback into the box. Senior defender Keegan Tingey lost the ball to J.C. Ngando, who took it into the box with some smooth dribbling and slid it across to Marco Afonso for the easy finish.
The Cardinal weren’t fazed, however, and immediately began to pressure their opponents, looking for the equalizer. After a few cleared balls into the box, they found it.
After a great ball down the line, the ball was switched to Tingey on the left. He found senior midfielder Cam Cilley wide open on the edge of the box, and Cilley wasted no time, smashing it into the right side netting to tie things up at 1-1.
Sensing the possibility to do more damage, Stanford once again started strong from the kickoff, and continued to create opportunities in UNCG’s box. It seemed like only a matter of time before they got their second goal, but the Spartan defense withstood the avalanche, packing their box and blocking shots. The two teams went into the break level, with the Cardinal feeling like they should have had more.
The second half had a much different feel, as both teams started to settle into their halves, afraid to give up a goal that would mean the end of their season. Both sides saw chances from corners go missing, but the lack of willingness to send players forward in open play saw the game close up. In the 72nd minute, UNCG’s Ismail El Harchi was whistled for a studs-up challenge that should have seen him sent off, but got away with just a yellow card.
The end of the second half continued as it started, and even as Stanford sent players into the box for the last five minutes, neither side could make a dent in their opponent’s defense. Regular time ended 1-1, and the teams huddled up to prepare for overtime.
The two 10-minute periods of overtime did not provide much more attacking play, with both teams seemingly satisfied to end the match on penalties. Redshirt freshman Shane de Flores had the Cardinal’s only real chance with a shot on goal, but it was saved easily.
After 110 minutes of hard-fought, physical play, the players entered a penalty shootout. Stanford shot first, with Agostinelli stepping up to the spot, but his kick was saved by UNCG keeper Isaac Briner. Cardinal kick-takers missed their first three penalties of the shootout, as Briner guessed correctly each time to deny them. Matt Frank saved the Spartan’s second penalty, but it wasn’t enough, as UNCG won 3-1, knocking Stanford out of the tournament and advancing into the Elite Eight.
It was an unfortunate end of the season for the Cardinal, who felt as though they should have put the game away in the first half. Stanford had 12 shots to UNCG’s three, but they weren’t able to convert, and it cost them.
Despite the early exit, the Cardinal put forth a season to be prideful of, ending the campaign with a record of 12-2-6. They began the season on a nine-game unbeaten run, and made the postseason for the ninth time in the last ten years. Four players received All-Pac-12 honors, and senior defender Keegan Hughes was named the Pac-12 Defender of the Year. Next year’s squad will miss its senior contributors — Hughes, Cilley, Tingey and Frank were core members of the team — but there are plenty of younger players who have shown the ability to step up, including redshirt freshman Shane de Flores, who led the team in goals and total points.