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M. Soccer: Critical matchup with UCLA awaits Stanford

When senior Adam Jahn’s header found the back of net early in overtime on Friday night, it sent several thousand UC-Santa Barbara fans home disappointed on Senior Night and the Stanford men’s soccer team back to campus with a critical upset win over the No. 25 Gauchos on the road.

Senior Adam Jahn (12) leads Stanford into Los Angeles tonight for a showdown with No. 5 UCLA (Stanford Daily File Photo).

Tonight offers a similar opportunity for the Cardinal to replicate the success of last weekend against a different team—UCLA—and with its playoff chances all-but-guaranteed to be on the line.

Stanford (7-7-1, 3-3-1 Pac-12) is currently tied for third in the Pac-12 standings, too far behind conference-leading Washington to make a bid for the title with just three games remaining, but in position to put together a strong case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with a good run to end the season.

The Cardinal will need to impress the selection committee, however, and tonight’s match on the road against the No. 5 Bruins (11-2-2, 6-1) provides a great opportunity to do just that.

After knocking off Washington on Monday night, the Bruins are poised to move past the Huskies in the standings, needing just six points in the final three matches to secure their fourth Pac-12 title in five years.

But Stanford is aiming to make earning those six points a difficult task, even if the Bruins have dominated the matchup historically. The Cardinal and Bruins have met on the soccer field a total of 53 times. While UCLA boasts a striking 40 wins, Stanford has only six to its name, an intimidating statistic that doesn’t accurately portray the intense and competitive history between the two teams. The competition came to a head in 2002, in the NCAA Championship final, when UCLA eked out a win.

Jahn, however, leads an offensive attack that is gaining some momentum after struggling to score earlier in the season. The El Macero, Calif. native was named Pac-12 Men’s Soccer Player of the Week after his third match-winner of the 2012 campaign in last Friday’s game. Jahn followed in the footsteps of fellow teammate, sophomore Zach Batteer, who was Pac-12 Player of the Week four weeks ago. The resilient backline is led by keeper Drew Hutchins, with an impressive 39 saves this season.

The momentum of each team, still high from the exhilaration of such important wins, will surely generate fast-paced, aggressive play from both the Cardinal and the Bruins. But the quick turnover for UCLA, compared to Stanford’s extensive recovery time, could be the deciding factor this Thursday. Stanford hoes to capitalize on the tired legs and weariness of the Bruins’ players, especially in the midfield.

Hutchins will meet his match this Thursday, when UCLA goalkeeper Earl Edwards takes the field. Edwards has consistently managed to shut down attacks by his opponents, and he leads the Pac-12 with his .807 save percentage. Bruins senior midfielder and captain Ryan Hollingshead, recently named to the National Team of the Week, seems to be on a scoring streak, having scored in UCLA’s last two games against the Huskies and the Beavers.

UCLA is not invincible, though; for the 26 total goals they have scored this season, they have allowed 15 themselves. Bateer, with five goals this season, has one of the best chances of penetrating UCLA’s defense and getting a shot off, and Jahn is ranked second in the Pac-12 with 20 individual points.

Looking for revenge for their Sept. 29 loss to UCLA, the Cardinal faces off against the Bruins at 7 p.m. tonight from Westwood in a game that will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. By maintaining their focus and calm, and by being quick on the ball, the team can take a big step toward punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.