After opening the season with a four-game road trip against some tough teams on the East Coast, the No. 2 Stanford women’s soccer team had yet to defeat any opponent by more than a single goal and had tied two of its matches in double-overtime. That changed last weekend in the Cardinal’s first homestand, as Stanford (4-0-2) was both host and victor of the annual Stanford Nike Invitational. On its way to victory, last year’s national runner-up defeated No. 23 Georgia 2-1 in overtime on Friday, then routed Pacific 4-0 two days later.
Friday’s win over Georgia (4-2-1) was anything but smooth, as the Cardinal fell behind early and struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Senior forward Christen Press would eventually play hero for the Cardinal, scoring the tying goal and sealing the win in overtime, but not without a game-long struggle to find the right rhythm on offense.
After Georgia forward Marah Falle put the Card down 1-0 in just the 15th minute, Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe made a lot of adjustments, eventually using eight players at forward. Freshman Taylor McCann made her first start there, but was replaced in the 24th minute by classmate Sydney Payne.
The Cardinal did manage a respectable 23 shots in the match, but not many of them had a chance of getting past Georgia goalkeeper Ashley Baker, who had 11 saves. Ratcliffe even tried putting starting defenders Courtney Verloo and Camille Levin at forward to shake things up. The Stanford coach made changes on the other side of the ball as well, replacing senior goalkeeper Kira Maker with freshman Emily Oliver at halftime.
It took until the 79th minute for Stanford to beat Baker and tie the game, and even then, the goal came from an established force on the Cardinal, Christen Press, and not from one of the offensive substitutes.
Despite the team’s earlier struggles, the tying goal was a thing of beauty. Press got a pass from Levin just outside the box, and arced it just under the crossbar in the far corner of the goal.
In the 10th minute of overtime, Press took things into her own hands again to seal the win. This time, though, the goal felt a bit more like good luck. The senior forward knocked a header in front of the goal that hit a Georgia defender and careened into the net.
“Heading is not my strength,” Press said. “Coaches have been telling me to jump in the air and get some strength behind it. So, I jumped up and tried to head it back this way, and I didn’t get enough power, so it went that way.
“But, you know, I’ll take it.”
After three weekends of play, the Cardinal had started a series with a win for the first time. All three of those games (against Boston College, North Carolina and now Georgia) had gone into overtime, with the first two ending in draws.
For Press, who shared Top Drawer’s Player of the Year award with former teammate Kelley O’Hara in 2009, it was her 50th career goal. She is just the fourth player in Stanford history to reach that milestone.
If the Cardinal offense had trouble finding rhythm in Friday’s match, then on Sunday it was a well-oiled machine. Stanford defeated unranked Pacific (2-4-1) by a score of 4-0 for its first multi-goal victory of the season to seal first place in the tournament.
“The Georgia game, for whatever reason, we were very flat,” Ratcliffe said. “We lacked energy. We definitely talked about that on Saturday, an off day. Today, we came out with positive energy. We looked sharp, and we were moving the ball, and we created four great opportunities and scored four great goals. It was whole turnaround, for me. Much better mentality.”
Stanford saw goals from sophomore Mariah Nogueira, senior Allison McCann and junior Teresa Noyola all before halftime, and sophomore defender Rachel Quon added a goal of her own in the 58th minute. It was the first score of her career.
Press continued to contribute as well, giving assists on both of the first two goals. She has 35 for her career, putting her in second place behind Marcie Ward (40) for all-time assists at Stanford.
Ratcliffe utilized 22 players in the match, and things were working well on both sides of the ball for the duration of the game. On defense, the Cardinal didn’t allow a single shot on goal until the 82nd minute, and outshot Pacific 24-5 on the match as a whole.
“It’s great to see people go in, come in off the bench and have a great impact on the game,” Ratcliffe said. “I think that Friday and definitely today, players came off the bench and made a big impact.”
Stanford will take the field next weekend in the Santa Clara Classic, playing Utah at 5 p.m. on Friday and Georgetown at 11 a.m. on Sunday.