It really wasn’t a good weekend to be a fifth-ranked Stanford team.
A little more than 24 hours after the football team was shocked by underdog Utah, the women’s soccer team suffered an even more stunning defeat as the No. 5 Cardinal (9-3-1, 2-3-0 Pac-12) was toppled by the struggling USC Trojans (6-6-2, 1-3-1) by a score of 1-0 in front of a packed crowd of 2,150 at Cagan Stadium.
For a team that hadn’t lost at home since 2007 going into last weekend, the Cardinal hit a historic low with its third consecutive home loss on Sunday night. It marked the first time since 1987 that the Cardinal had lost three home matches in a row and the first time ever in the program’s history that Stanford had lost three conference home games in a row.
Although Stanford had entered the season as a consensus top-five team, the Cardinal’s championship hopes have plummeted over its last three matches. It seemed as though last Sunday’s home loss to Arizona State had stunned both the players and coaches into a lull that was just accentuated in a loss to a championship-caliber No. 2 UCLA squad on Thursday. That loss of confidence came to a forefront on Sunday against a USC team that had not won a match in almost a month and was still looking for its first conference victory.
Stanford made some changes to its starting lineup for Sunday’s match after its stagnant play and lack of explosiveness against Arizona State and UCLA. The most notable switch was the removal of junior forward Taylor Uhl — already responsible for 10 goals this season — in favor of freshman Megan Turner. Freshman goalkeeper Jane Campbell also took a predetermined match off to give sophomore Sarah Cox a chance to play.
Neither team’s players were able to maintain firm possession of the ball all evening combining for just seven shots and three saves through a scoreless first half. Stanford’s passing was especially off, with the power, direction and timing of many passes leading to turnovers and balls going out of bounds in the face of USC’s high-pressure defense.
The Cardinal had one good opportunity in the 18th minute when junior forward Chioma Ubogagu sped down the sideline and set up a great cross into the box for senior forward Courtney Verloo. However, Verloo’s sliding shot went just wide of the right post, and the Cardinal came up empty in one of its few promising scoring opportunities of the evening.
USC pulled ahead after halftime when it scored a rare goal off of a corner kick as forward Kayla Mills got the ball to midfielder Alex Quincey, who headed the ball into the goal off of a ricochet.
Although the Cardinal solidified its passing and gave itself many more opportunities in the second half, goalkeeper Caroline Stanley played a shutdown match for the Trojans and kept Stanford off the board despite a 12-4 shot advantage for the Cardinal.
Ubogagu was on the move all evening, beating defenders and creating opportunities as she tried to spark the Cardinal to victory. However, despite her best efforts, the Cardinal couldn’t get the ball into the back of the net.
In the 75th minute, Ubogagu used some nifty footwork in the box to keep the ball away from defenders and set up a good pass to freshman defender Maddie Bauer, who was robbed of a goal by a good save from Stanley. Ubogagu also used her standout speed to create opportunities in the 66th and 85th minutes by beating the whole USC defense and getting clear shots off that were also saved by Stanley, who saved six shots in all in the second half.
“I think [Ubogagu] had some amazing opportunities, and I’m sure she’s very upset that she wasn’t able to capitalize on them,” said head coach Paul Ratcliffe. “But she had good energy, she was trying to be a difference maker and she was. She just couldn’t connect on the chances she created. The goalkeeper came up with a couple of good saves on her opportunities.”
Ratcliffe admitted after the match that he was still unsure of how his team’s mentality was holding up under the pressures of an extremely rare and demotivating losing streak.
“I hope the mentality is, ‘Hey, work hard and good things will come our way,’ but there does seem to be a little bit of a mental block, and they seem a little down,” Ratcliffe said. “Hopefully we can bounce back. We have a lot of work to do and, you know, we’re going to see their character now.”
The Cardinal will have one final opportunity to bounce back at home against Utah on Friday at 7 p.m. amidst this tough stretch before it embarks on a four-game conference road trip.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.