With their fourth consecutive Pac-12 conference title and fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA national tournament, the defending NCAA champion women’s soccer team is poised to make yet another title run. After easily advancing into the Round of 16, No. 1 Stanford’s path is blocked by the 17th-ranked Santa Clara Broncos. Stanford faces off against the Broncos in a second round matchup tonight at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium at 7 p.m.
As easy as it is to disregard the Santa Clara game and begin speculating about tougher potential matches down the road to the College Cup, which will be held on Dec. 2 at Torero Stadium in San Diego, the Cardinal says the need to focus on the here and now of the tournament.
“Every year is different and I think we know that we have to show up from the start against any team,” said senior captain Rachel Quon.
The assumption of an easy win could cost the Cardinal the game. The Broncos can and will punish a slow start by the Cardinal, considering that they have recorded 163 shots on goal compared to only 109 for their various opponents. The depth of the San Clara team, evidenced by the fact that a total of 11 Broncos players have at least one goal, can provide fresh legs off the bench. The Broncos are more than deserving of a second glance by the Cardinal; they have collected 172 corner kicks to their opponents’ 107 and have outscored their opponents 36-24.
The Cardinal, though, has outscored its opponents 52-12 this season. Stanford suffered its only loss of the season to West Virginia in August, and its season-opening win against Santa Clara on Aug. 17 was a game in which two of the Broncos’ leading scorers, Sofia Huerta and Julie Johnson, did not play. Johnson, part of U.S. team that won the under-20 women’s World Cup in September, leads the team in scoring with eight goals and five assists.
The Broncos-Cardinal rivalry, once a close and competitive matchup between two offensively oriented teams, has been dominated by Stanford in the last seven years. In the teams’ encounter this season, Stanford came back from a 1-0 deficit at halftime to score six second-half goals against Santa Clara. As a result, emotion is expected to run through all 90 minutes; the Broncos will surely come crashing out of the gates, full of energy and vengeance, to take down the No. 1 team tonight.
Jerry Smith, the Broncos’ head coach, emphasized the advantageous speed and agility of Stanford.
“When you play a number-one team like Stanford I think everything has to go well for you,” he said.
The game will at least in part depend on Stanford’s ability to capitalize on Santa Clara’s mistakes and recover quickly after turnovers, especially considering the threat of Santa Clara’s big, physical forwards.
Stanford’s defensive wall is definitely a strong suit, led by a strong group of seniors including captain and central defender Alina Garciamendez. Cardinal keepers Emily Oliver and Aly Gleason are both extremely reliable in the net, boasting better than .800 save percentages.
While Santa Clara is coming off a close, 2-1 win against Long Beach State, Stanford cruised in its first-round win over Idaho State, a 3-0 victory.
“I think any time we put one in early on in the game, our confidence throughout the game is higher and we are able to settle in to the way we really like to play,” said sophomore forward Alex Doll of her goal in the first minutes of the against Idaho State. The best way for the Cardinal to ensure its passage into the third round would be to score first on Friday, confirmed by Stanford’s 149-match unbeaten streak when it scores the first goal.
The vaunted possession-oriented style of the Stanford team will definitely provide a challenge for Santa Clara.
“We can keep the ball for large strands at a time, and that often tires the other team out,” Doll said.
Although Stanford is trying to not look too far ahead, a win this Friday would put them through to a third-round game against either Maryland or Denver, depending on the rest of the night’s results.