Slow starts cost men’s soccer over weekend

Nov. 6, 2023, 1:36 a.m.

This weekend, No. 19 Stanford men’s soccer (8-3-5, 2-2-5 Pac-12) competed in two big matchups against the San Diego State Aztecs (6-6-5, 0-6-3 Pac-12) on Thursday and the UCLA Bruins (7-3-5, 4-0-4 Pac-12) on Sunday. The Cardinal needed to win both games to keep their Pac-12 championship hopes alive, which would also secure them a guaranteed spot in the NCAA tournament. 

On Thursday night, Stanford started the weekend off on the right foot, securing a massive 5-0 victory against San Diego State. 

Coming into this game, Stanford’s last two matches were both 1-1 draws in which the Cardinal conceded goals first before equalizing late. This match almost started the same way, with SDSU having two huge scoring opportunities within the first three minutes. The Aztecs’ Terence Okoeguale found himself one-on-one against redshirt freshman goalkeeper Rowan Schnebly after a blistering counter-attack in the second minute. However, Schnebly’s quick reactions let him get his left hand up to block the shot. 

“As soon as I saw the ball go through [Zach Bohane’s] legs, I was like, ‘It’s my time to come out.’ And I just came out and got as big as I could, and fortunately it hit me in the left hand and went out for a corner,” Schnebly said. 

The Cardinal’s good luck wouldn’t end there. In the chaos of the ensuing corner, SDSU got off another shot, but this time the ball hit the crossbar.

“We gave up more chances than we normally do,” said head coach Jeremy Gunn. Our “keeper makes a huge save, and they hit the crossbar. But after that flurry from San Diego State, I thought we showed a lot of composure and played a really solid game.”

That composure in front of goal was quickly evident. The Cardinal only had four shots in the first 20 minutes (compared to the Aztecs’ seven), but were able to convert three of those into goals. In the 7th minute, redshirt sophomore midfielder Shane de Flores smashed one home after a cross was headed down in front of the SDSU goal. Then, less than 15 minutes later, sophomore midfielder Zach Bohane scored two in rapid succession. In the 19th minute, SDSU botched a clearance and Bohane picked up the scraps, burying the ball into the goal’s bottom corner. Then, just barely a minute later, de Flores was able to beat his man down the left side and put in a cutback cross that Bohane slotted past the Aztec goalkeeper. 

Even with a 3-0 lead, Stanford kept its foot on the gas. The Cardinal would dominate the rest of the game, outshooting the Aztecs 18-2 and putting two more goals on the board in the second half. In the 74th minute, sophomore midfielder Fletcher Bank took advantage of the Aztec goalkeeper’s mismanagement of redshirt senior midfielder Mark Fisher’s cross to put in Stanford’s fourth goal. This happened again in the 78th minute, with redshirt junior midfielder Connor Evans’ cross getting parried right to freshman forward Duncan Jarvie, who tacked on Stanford’s fifth goal. 

“The first time we played these guys it was a 0-0 tie, so we knew we had to get goals in,” said Bohane. “Five is definitely what we needed and what we’ve been working on all week in training.”

This win came at a critical time for the Cardinal’s regular season campaign. The win put Stanford five points behind conference leader UCLA, who they would face just three days later. 

“We’ve had a special rivalry with UCLA in the conference,” said Gunn. “They’ve got a very good team right now that’s playing exceptionally well … So it’s going to be a really, really tough game.”

The Cardinal needed victories on Sunday and in their last game against Cal (7-5-5, 3-3-3 Pac-12) — and for both UCLA and Oregon State (7-5-4, 4-1-4 Pac-12) to lose their final matches — to win the conference. 

“We’ve been working hard every day in practice,” Schnebly said ahead of the UCLA game.  “Everybody’s noses are pointed forward, and we’re ready to attack every single game, play one more game at a time.”

“There probably doesn’t need to be too much inspiration from the coach when you’re a player at this stage because it’s a really exciting time,” Gunn explained. “If we can get a win against UCLA, then it really puts pressure on them going into the last game of the season.”

However, on Sunday, things didn’t click for the Cardinal. Stanford suffered a demoralizing 3-1 loss to UCLA in their second game of the weekend, eliminating them from Pac-12 championship contention. 

For the second time in a row, Stanford had a shaky start to the game. But this time, Schnebly’s heroics couldn’t save them. Once again, barely three minutes after kickoff, UCLA’s graduate forward Jack Sarkos received the ball in Stanford’s penalty area and took a clean shot off the half turn; this time, the ball slotted past an outstretched Schnebly. 

While the Cardinal were able to settle into the game soon after, they struggled to overcome the early deficit. UCLA clogged up the middle of the field, making it difficult for Stanford to penetrate the lines. When they did make it forward, the Cardinal couldn’t seem to get the final pass right, with uncharacteristically misplaced passes and poor touches killing their pace. 

Even so, Stanford was still knocking on the door. In the 37th minute, the Cardinal were able to get a shot off from inside the UCLA box, but the UCLA goalkeeper got just enough of his right foot on the ball to deflect it over the crossbar. 

However, another slow start in the second half effectively put the game out of reach. In the 48th minute, UCLA’s redshirt junior forward Jose Contell was on the receiving end of a lofted forward pass and flicked the ball past Schnebly. Then, just five minutes later, Contell got the ball in Stanford’s box, took a touch to the left and fired it into the back of the net for his second. 

Down three, Stanford tried its best to rally back. Second-half substitutions brought more energy for the Cardinal, and they created multiple promising opportunities. Finally, in the 79th minute, senior defender Noah Adnan got on the end of a cross that found its way into the UCLA goal. 

But this would prove too little too late, as the Cardinal would ultimately fall 3-1. In a dramatic reversal of the SDSU game, Stanford would outshoot UCLA 16-6, but a clinical performance by the Bruins saw the Cardinal’s hopes for their twelfth conference championship dashed. 

Now, the Cardinal’s postseason fate lies entirely in the NCAA tournament selection committee, and they’ll have one last opportunity against Cal to earn themselves a spot. 

Stanford’s final regular season game will be against Cal on Saturday at Cagan Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. PT.

Kevin Jing is a contributor to The Daily's sports section.

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