A tough loss in Friday night’s Pac-12 opener against No. 9 UCLA meant the men’s soccer team had dropped three straight matches and was staring down the barrel of a long season if it started the conference schedule 0-2.
But redshirt freshman Eric Verso’s first career goal and a late add-on by sophomore Zach Batteer ended the Cardinal’s drought and breathed life into the young season as Stanford (4-5, 1-1 Pac-12) knocked off a sluggish San Diego State team Sunday afternoon.
Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn’s side was the clear aggressor from Sunday’s opening whistle, creating plenty of chances and nearly opening the scoring with a dangerous shot from redshirt sophomore Bobby Edwards just a minute into the match.
“Our attitude from the kickoff was perfect,” Gunn said. “We were energetic, creating chances and putting San Diego State under immense pressure.”
Sophomore defender Jimmy Callinan said the team was fired up and feeling good even in warm-ups before the game.
“We really came into today with nothing to lose, and needing a win,” Callinan said. “In warm-ups it was clear that we were the fitter side and we just said, ‘Lets take it to San Diego State.’”
With six shots in the first 11 minutes of the match, Stanford dominated the run of play and the attacking third. But as more and more time elapsed with plenty of shots and no breakthrough, it appeared as though the Cardinal might be in for the same fate it had met in several games this year, outshooting its opponent by double or triple but losing 2-1 or 1-0.
A well-earned corner kick in the 40th minute set up Verso for just the spark Stanford needed. With Verso and redshirt sophomore Austin Meyer working a short corner, Verso circled around as Meyer dished the ball off to him near the corner of the goal box. His shot was low to the far post and the goalie was shielded by both defenders and attackers and was helpless to make the save.
“We’d been knocking on the door for a while, and the chances were coming and coming but we just couldn’t get one,” Verso said. “It was a pretty huge goal for me, my first career goal, really exciting and really amazing.”
As a team, the Cardinal outshot San Diego State 14-2 in the half, and although the Aztecs picked up their rate of play as they pushed forward for an equalizer, Stanford remained in control.
Senior defender Eric Anderson pushed forward with a nice run all the way to goal but was turned away almost point-blank by Aztec goalie Tim Peitsch. And several other chances for the Cardinal went wide or were saved in the half.
But it wasn’t until very late that Stanford put the game out of reach, as Batteer turned in the box and fired a hard shot past Peitsch to make it 2-0 Cardinal.
“It felt good,” Batteer said. “We knew that if we just kept working the things we’d been working on in practice and with Coach Gunn would fall into place, and if I just kept believing in myself I knew I would get one.”
It was a good reward for a side that lost a tough 3-1 match against the Bruins on Friday night, as UCLA scored twice before halftime and held off a hard-charging Cardinal side late.
“The win [against the Aztecs] means a lot for us as a team,” Verso said. “We’ve been outplaying every opponent, outshooting them, unfortunately the results haven’t been coming so far. We’ve got a lot of momentum coming into the Cal game, and hopefully we can build on it and get a win streak going.”
“Everyone is feeling a lot more confident now that we have a win in conference,” he said. “It’s good to go into the Pac-12 1-1, because it means that it’s probably going to come down to us and one other team fighting for the playoffs, and with another chance to beat UCLA we’ve got a great shot to make the NCAA tournament.”
The sixth and final match of Stanford’s season-long homestand will kick off at 7 p.m. as the rival Golden Bears visit the Farm.