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W. Soccer: Stanford defense extends shutout streak to five matches

Yesterday afternoon the Stanford women’s soccer team kicked off Pac-12 play with a 3-0 win over visiting Arizona State.

The No. 3 Cardinal (7-1-1) has now strung together five straight shutouts after its single loss to West Virginia back in August, scoring 15 goals in the process. The defeat ends the Sun Devils’ (4-5-1) recent winning streak and also sends them to the bottom of the early Pac-12 standings. The Card’s three goals came from junior forward Natalie Griffen, redshirt junior forward Courtney Verloo and junior forward Taylor McCann.

Redshirt junior forward Courtney Verloo (5) notched her third goal of the season and added her team-high seventh assist as No. 3 Stanford opened the Pac-12 season with a 3-0 victory over Arizona State.

However, the score line doesn’t do justice to what was a difficult test for the Stanford team.

“I give Arizona State a lot of credit,” Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “I thought they came out fast and furiously against us. We didn’t deal with that pressure very well, never got in a rhythm, and honestly the first half I thought was the worst first half we’ve played this year, so I was very upset with them at half time.”

Though the Card took five shots in the first half, none were on target, while Arizona fired six, testing Stanford redshirt junior goalkeeper Aly Gleason twice. The Sun Devils seemed to come out with more aggression, making the Card uncomfortable, and not allowing Stanford the time to click.

In return, Arizona State players found enough space to maneuver, and as the clock wound down Stanford counted itself lucky to go into the break level. A shot from the left by Sun Devils’ junior forward Devin Marshall hit the crossbar and the rebound by her teammate senior forward Miah Mollay sailed harmlessly across the face of the goal.

“We couldn’t really string a lot of passes together,” Griffen said, “and so I think possession was our problem and our energy was off. It was a little bit slow when we really needed to pick up the pace and go at them.”

After the break, though, the Cardinal’s play was much improved. Ratcliffe made several changes, including bringing on last season’s starting goalkeeper, junior Emily Oliver, who returned for her first action this year while recovering from injury. Arizona State could not keep up the physical presence and tempo it had set in the first half and Stanford began to make dangerous runs through its opponent’s defense, outshooting the Sun Devils 19-8 by the final buzzer.

“At halftime it was more about ‘let’s not turn this into random soccer,’” said Ratcliffe. “We need to keep possession of the ball, link up passes, try to get it wide, go one-v-one, create chances and get some crosses in. We settled in, got possession, played much better and created a lot of chances. It could have been five.”

The breakthrough came from Griffen’s strike in the 55nd minute, and when sophomore midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta was brought down in the box seven minutes later, Verloo stepped up to bury the penalty. As the clock wore down and Arizona State struggled, Griffen looked clear to add another with a breakaway shot. Her strike was blocked, but McCann was hot on her heels and finished off the attack.

Next up the Card will welcome the Oregon schools to Laird Q. Cagan stadium, facing Pac-12 leaders No. 24 Oregon State at 6 p.m. on Thursday followed by Oregon at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

About Tom Taylor