Seventy-seven minutes and 45 seconds into Sunday night’s match, it looked like the men’s soccer team might be doomed to yet another frustrating 1-0 defeat at the hands of archrival California. The Cardinal struggled to capitalize on several solid scoring chances, as has been the story for much of a thus-far trying season. Stanford seemed to be on its way to a third straight defeat to open Pac-12 play.
But in just two seconds, the time it took junior Adam Jahn to slam a 25-yard free kick off the underside of the crossbar and into the back of the net, that all changed. The Cardinal’s defense held firm, and while the offense was shut out the rest of the way, head coach Bret Simon’s team managed to halt its losing streak and stay alive in the brutal Pac-12 Conference.
Stanford (3-6-2, 0-2-1 Pac-12) had lost six straight matches against the Golden Bears dating back to 2007, and John Fitzpatrick’s header past redshirt sophomore goalie Jason Dodson quieted a large crowd of 2,919 at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Sophomore midfielder J.J. Koval said that conceding yet another early goal made things very difficult but did not stop the players from feeling that they were in control.
“We came out hard and really rode the energy of crowd,” Koval said. “They scored the first goal, and it is really tough to go down early. But we kept working hard and pushing, and in the second half I really thought we had the better chances.”
Stanford did not, however, have the most chances in the half, as Cal outshot the Card 10-5 after the break. Dodson was kept busy, making three second-half saves to keep the game close.
But the Stanford offense started to zero in, particularly after Simon pushed an extra attacker forward in the formation to pressure Cal’s back line. After not putting a single shot on frame in the first half, the Cardinal got its best scoring opportunity of the game when Jahn broke free and finally forced Cal goalie Bobby Gogatz into a save.
And then, finally, came the breakthrough.
Junior Dersu Abolfathi earned a free kick in a very dangerous area, 25 yards away from goal, just on the edge of the penalty circle and straight in front of the net. Jahn stood over the kick, paused, and then unleashed a perfectly driven ball to the top-right corner. It barely nicked off the crossbar, leaving Gogatz diving helplessly in its wake.
“The goal was a great relief,” Jahn said. “I had gotten really close to scoring on a free kick a few times in previous games. Funnily enough, each set piece was more or less from the same place on the field, so to sort of progress and get closer and closer to finally scoring was awesome.”
It was Jahn’s team-leading third goal of the season and also snapped the team’s 300-minute scoreless streak. The crowd roared back to life, and Stanford pressed forward with a renewed energy. Redshirt senior Garrett Gunther had two good chances in the final minutes—two of his five shots for the game—but the game went to overtime tied at one.
“You know, obviously we’ve been struggling to put the ball in the back of the net,” Koval said. “Which sounds discouraging, but at the same time we’re creating a lot of chances. Adam’s goal was beautiful, and the whole game showed a lot about our team’s character; fight hard and stick by each other’s side.”
Cal went back on the offensive in the first extra period, but the Cardinal’s defense was up to the challenge, snuffing out any real scoring chances with relative ease. And in the second extra period, Gunther led a late charge that saw a flurry of Stanford shots test the Bears’ defense.
Although none found the back of the net, it was a positive sign for the team as it gets close to the halfway point of conference play.
“I think it was a big goal for the team because we all felt we deserved a result last night,” Jahn said Monday. “We haven’t gotten a result against Cal since I’ve been here, so this is a good step in that direction and getting that first win against them.”
Seven games remain in the regular season, including a two-game homestand against Washington and Oregon State on the schedule this weekend. Koval was optimistic that the team can use the 1-1 draw against last year’s Pac-12 champions Cal to gather momentum for a stretch run.
“The good thing about our Pac-12 Conference is that you get to play everyone twice,” he said. “Even though we didn’t get the results we wanted against San Diego State and UCLA, we get a second chance coming up. And who knows what can happen. We still have a good amount of games in the season—anything is possible in the Pac-12.”