The arrival of new head coach Jeremy Gunn sparked plenty of change in the men’s soccer team this year.
After just one postseason appearance since 2002, Gunn’s high-energy approach resonated with players in offseason training, and the team has come into the season determined to press forward and continually test the opposing defense.
A month into the season, however, Stanford (3-4) still has yet to really break through. A season-opening triumph on the road at the University of San Francisco was a solid win, and a road upset of then-No. 11 UC-Irvine was an impressive victory. But with the good have been some growing pains, as two overtime losses have pushed the Cardinal back under .500 on the season.
With No. 9 UCLA visiting the Farm tonight, Gunn’s troops are geared up to spring another upset and kick off Pac-12 play with a clean slate.
“We’re excited to get a chance at a fresh start in the Pac-12,” starting goalkeeper Drew Hutchins said. “Everyone [in the conference] is 0-0 and we are really looking forward to the weekend.”
Hutchins has been part of the Cardinal’s staunch defense early on, allowing just nine goals in seven starts and saving 18 shots to add to his two shutouts. With sophomores Jimmy Callinan and Tyler Conklin, freshman Brandon Vincent and senior Hunter Gorskie manning the backline, Stanford has been relatively efficient in defense. But the team has been plagued by early goals — opponents have scored three goals inside the first 15 minutes of play this season.
There can be no such letdown this weekend. Tonight’s matchup with UCLA will be one of the biggest tests of the year, as the Bruins were picked as the favorite to win the conference in the preseason Pac-12 coaches poll and are rolling through opponents thus far this year.
UCLA stayed hot after earning impressive results on the road last weekend. The Bruins earned a tough 1-1 draw at No. 3 UC-Santa Barbara in front of a hostile crowd of over 7,500, before beating Cal Poly in a 1-0 victory. With the win and the tie, UCLA upped their unbeaten streak to seven matches.
It’s been hard for just about anyone to score on the Bruins — dating back to last year, the UCLA defense has shut out 12 of the Bruins’ last 17 opponents, including a school-record-tying eight in a row last season. Junior Patrick Matchett and freshman Javan Torre will be tough to handle in the back, and sophomore Earl Edwards and freshman Juan Cervantes have combined for four shutouts in goal this year, with each goalkeeper tallying two. UCLA has also shut out its last six Pac-12 opponents dating back to last year and has not allowed a goal to a Pac-12 opponent in the last 638 minutes of conference play.
In addition, UCLA is unbeaten in their last 12 road matches dating back to Sept. 18 of last year, going 10-0-2 in that time frame. The Bruins won seven consecutive road matches a year ago, including a win in the NCAA quarterfinals at Louisville, and are 3-0-2 on the road this year, earning ties at No. 1 Maryland and No. 3 UC-Santa Barbara and victories at Virginia, Loyola Marymount and Cal Poly.
In the last four seasons, the Bruins have compiled a 30-4-6 conference mark, the best amongst the Pac-12 teams. UCLA also enters the season having won their last 13 Pac-12 matches and own a 39-6-7 lead in the all-time series between the two teams, including both matches last season.
It doesn’t get much easier on Sunday, as perennial contender San Diego State pays a visit to Cagan Stadium. The Aztecs (4-2-1) are riding high on a three-game win streak and have outscored their opponents 15-3 in those victories. After a tough loss to open the season against No. 8 Notre Dame, San Diego State earned a hard-fought 0-0 draw on the road at No. 11 Indiana and knocked off four of their next five opponents.
But as Hutchins said, Stanford is currently tied for first place in the conference and can take a big step toward the postseason with a pair of good results this weekend. Kickoff today will be at 4 p.m., and on Sunday the game will start at 2:30 p.m. — both matches will be played at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.