On Thursday, the Stanford women’s soccer team will face Arizona on the road in a match that historically has favored the No. 2 Cardinal, which has won 15 of 17 matchups. Stanford has also maintained a six-game winning streak against the Wildcats since losing to them in the 2005 Pac-10 championship 2-1.
Though recovering from a 1-1 tie to the University of Washington and 3-0 shutout at the hands of Washington State, Arizona (5-6-3, 1-2-2) will prove to be tough competition if it can return the form that saw it give No. 3 UCLA all it could handle in a 2-1 loss in September and California more than it could handle in an upset over the Golden Bears, who are otherwise undefeated in the past 10 games.
Standout Arizona striker junior Jazmin Ponce has already netted seven goals and leads the conference with 66 shots and 33 on frame. The Wildcats come equally well equipped in front of their own goal; goalkeeper junior Gabby Kaufman has made 72 saves, also the highest in the Pac-12. Kaufman has only allowed an impressive 17 goals in 14 games this season.
Meanwhile, the No. 2 Cardinal continues its quest to defend its four consecutive conference titles and 2011 national title. Though undefeated since August this season, Stanford (11-1-1, 5-0) has hit some road bumps in recent weeks.
Last weekend, Stanford fought for two narrow victories against Utah and Colorado. While both were well-earned wins, head coach Paul Ratcliffe admitted after the Utah game, “We can get better in the final third.”
Against the Utes, the Cardinal won 1-0 with senior Nina Watkins entering the match in the 30th minute and quickly scoring the only goal of the game.
The Buffaloes proved to be an even greater challenge, leading 1-0 with 15 minutes remaining despite Stanford having dominated possession and shot count. Still, two goals within 37 seconds from seniors Mariah Nogueria and Alina Garciamendez assured another victory for the Card.
Given the team’s trouble scoring over the weekend, Stanford has been practicing shooting in training this week.
“Lately we have really good passing and connecting throughout the field,” said freshman forward Katie Donahue. “Then we just need to be consistent on our finishing in the final third of the field.”
Nonetheless, the Cardinal has been a force this season, as in years past. The team has continued their 36-game winning streak in the Pac-12, which dates back to October 2008. And problems finishing have not defined the majority of the season <\p>–<\p>consider the team’s 5-1 routing of Oregon State two weeks ago.
With five different goal-scorers in the match against Oregon State and 12 overall this season, the team has made it a point not to rely on any individual players to score. Different players have scored each of Stanford’s last five goals.
However, leading scorer Noguiera has already notched six goals this season and 19 since she began at Stanford. Of those career goals, 14 have tied the score or been game-winners, which is perhaps why Ratcliffe chooses to push her up from defensive midfield when the team needs a goal.
Assuming it overcomes the difficulties it experienced on the road last weekend, Stanford is well prepared to further its championship hopes this weekend. As a strong contender for the national title, the team is expected to raise its intensity, starting with Arizona, before tournament play begins in November.
The Cardinal will face the Wildcats at 7 p.m. on Thursday evening at Mulcahey Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.