The No. 1 Cardinal (14-1-1, 8-0) faces a season-defining weekend as it heads to Los Angeles to play the University of Southern California (5-8-3, 2-4-2) Friday and No. 2 University of California Los Angeles (14-0-2, 7-0-1) Sunday. The matchup with the Bruins will be the pivotal match in Stanford’s season up to this point: losing will guarantee that it falls in the rankings, but winning will more or less assure a fourth-consecutive Pac-12 victory.
The match against unranked USC will be considerably less challenging for Stanford. Stanford’s record against the Trojans is a favorable 14-3-3, and the team has not lost to USC since 2005. Last season, Stanford easily defeated USC at the Cagan Stadium 3-0. USC has also struggled this season, having failed to win six of the past seven matches. Nonetheless, they are a tough team given that six of the past seven games ended in either draws or one-goal results.
“We’re definitely not overlooking USC,” junior goalkeeper Emily Oliver said. “They always come to play.”
Stanford and UCLA stand pretty even with an all-time record of 10-9-3 slightly in favor of the Cardinal. But in recent years, Stanford has had the edge, winning the past five matches against UCLA with a total score of 13-2. UCLA’s last victory dates back to a 1-0 match in October 2008, which also marks the last time Stanford lost in the Pac-12, a feat that equates to 39 undefeated conference games.
Still, Sunday’s match will present grueling competition for the Card. UCLA remains undefeated in NCAA Division I this season, and it has failed to win only once in conference play with a 0-0 draw against Washington State. The Bruins have also only conceded six goals this season, the fewest in the nation. Bruins senior Zakiya Bywaters is the nation’s leading scorer with 11 goals and was an all-Pac-12 first team selection last season.
However, Stanford has also had a mighty season and is well-matched against UCLA. Last week, the Farm welcomed Washington State and the University of Washington, beating both teams. While the match against UW was a routine 3-0 shutout, Washington State proved a tougher battle for the Card.
After going up 2-0 after just 21 minutes with goals from sophomore Chioma Ubogagu and redshirt junior Courtney Verloo, Stanford went into halftime tied 2-2, letting go of a two-goal lead for the first time since 1999. Senior captain and leading scorer Mariah Noguiera provided another clutch goal in the 62nd minute to assure victory. Oliver also proved crucial, coming up with three big saves in the second half.
After sitting out the first half of the season due to injury, missing eight matches, Oliver has come back in top form having started the past seven matches. With a career goals against average of .31, Oliver could finish the season as the best goalkeeper in Stanford’s history.
Another player back from injury is redshirt junior Courtney Verloo, who spent all of last season on the sidelines. Verloo had a strong weekend against the Washington schools with two goals and an assist, achievements that earned her her first Pac-12 Player of the Week.
As for this weekend’s game plan, the Card has no significant changes under way.
“We’re just doing the same thing we’ve always done,” said freshman forward Katie Donahue. “We really focus on a connecting game. We try and play a lot of passes before we go forward,” Donahue continued.
Following its potentially title-deciding trip to Los Angeles, Stanford heads to Berkeley for a rivalry match next weekend. No. 21 California is the final game before the regular season ends and tournament play begins.
“Everybody’s been working hard,” Oliver said. “This is the time of the season where it’s not the playoffs yet, but it’s deep into conference play.”
The Cardinal kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. at the Los Angeles Coliseum; there will be a live audio stream via gostanford.com. Play begins against UCLA on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Drake Stadium and can be watched on the Pac-12 Networks.