The Stanford men’s soccer team opens the Stanford Nike Classic under the lights Friday night, playing St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. The team is set to face Denver on Sunday afternoon in its final tune-up game before conference play begins.
The Cardinal (2-4) came into the season ranked 14th in the national polls, but was left dumbfounded after dropping the first four games of the season in heartbreaking fashion. A late goal by senior forward Dominique Yahyavi finally put the team in the win column against USF, however, and a 4-1 beat-down of Santa Clara at home gave the players some much-needed confidence.
Senior defender Bobby Warshaw was impressed by the way the team handled the losing streak.
“Those were really tough losses, but the guys are taking the lessons they learned from them and getting better,” he said. “We weren’t ever panicking, and we knew it was going to come, but having the wins does improve the morale.”
Head coach Bret Simon is also optimistic with the season still in its infancy.
“The first few games weren’t great, but we played better than the results showed,” he said. “We came into the game against USF knowing it might be the most difficult game of the year because they always play us tough, but we scratched and clawed our way though that game. We need to keep up that concentration and focus, but that type of win can go a long way to giving you belief.”
St. Mary’s, the Cardinal’s opponent on Friday, is full of confidence after moving into a national poll (Soccer America has them at No. 18) for the first time since 1991 and only the second time in history. The Gaels are 4-1-1 and coming off back-to-back shutouts of San Jose State and No. 17 Cal State Bakersfield.
The matchup also pits standout junior goalkeeper Doug Herrick of St. Mary’s against Stanford’s leading goal scorer, Yahyavi. Herrick has three shutouts in just six games and was recently named WCC Player of the Week. Yahyavi has been hot of late: his three goals this past weekend, including the aforementioned game winner against USF, led to him being named Pac-10 Player of the Week for the first time. It was the 12th time a Stanford player has ever been awarded the honor.
The Cardinal will go on to face Denver on Sunday at 1 p.m. and will have to work hard to slow down junior Jarod Stigall. The midfielder has three goals this season and found the back of the net twice to help Denver draw with then-No. 16 Portland two weeks ago. He was named MPSF Player of the Week for his efforts.
Denver (4-2) is coming off a bad home loss to No. 21 Penn State, but was unbeaten in four previous games, a stretch in which it tied Portland and pulled out a 3-1 win over then No. 20 Georgetown. The Pioneers will face No. 14 California later on Friday.
The team’s defense has been its usual staunch self, allowing only eight goals in the first six games. Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Jason Dodson has stepped into the role filled by graduated John Moore, who finished with a staggering nine shutouts last year and 18 in his four years as a starter.
“I’m stepping in, and I have some big shoes to fill,” Dodson said. “My job is just to be as solid as possible. I want to be doing all the little things right. I can’t give up any soft goals, and if I don’t do that, I think the guys can really rely on me.”
This weekend will provide a chance to see if the Cardinal has recovered from its early-season slide and is ready to take on what is certain to be a rigorous Pac-10 schedule.
“We found ourselves in an unfortunate position after the first games,” said sophomore midfielder Dersu Abolfathi. “But we aren’t feeling sorry for ourselves, and we’re just taking it one game at a time. If anything, we are stronger as a result, and we know that we can’t take anything for granted.”