After dropping its first two Pac-10 contests to California and Washington, the men’s soccer team avoided an even bigger hole thanks to senior forward Dominique Yahyavi’s golden goal to beat Oregon State in double overtime.
This weekend, the Cardinal returns home to face a stiff test from two tough opponents: No. 13 UCLA and previously-ranked San Diego State.
The Bruins (8-2-1, 3-0 Pac-10) are tied with Cal for the Pac-10 lead and are looking to extend their dominance over the Cardinal, already holding a 36-5-7 advantage in the all-time series. UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo’s club is rounding into top form as well — opponents have scored just one goal in Pac-10 play. The Bruins have won four straight matches and have only one loss in their past nine games.
After losing several key players from last year’s 12-4-4 squad that lost to Wake Forest in the NCAA quarterfinals, UCLA is riding the wave of a very highly ranked freshman class this year. Five Bruins were drafted in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft in January, but the current freshman class includes five more players from Top Drawer Soccer’s Top 25.
Underclassmen have scored all but one of UCLA’s 18 goals this season, and only five upperclassmen have received a start this year.
Freshman midfielder Kelyn Rowe is on a tear of late, with a goal or an assist in his past four games and totaling four goals and five assists on the season. Incidentally, UCLA is 7-0 when Rowe has at least one point, and 1-2-1 when he is scoreless.
But for all the statistics, rankings and talk of how well various opponents are playing, Stanford’s focus remains intensely inwards.
Sophomore defender Hunter Gorskie emphasized not allowing opponents to dictate the team’s style of play.
“We have to focus on playing our game and let them adapt to us. We have to keep the ball, be confident on the ball and maintain possession,” he said. “To win, we also need to be clinical in the final third [of the field] and make sure the last pass is also the right pass.”
In the 2-0 loss to Washington on Friday night, the offense never really found its groove, according to redshirt senior midfielder Thiago Sa Freire.
“It was just one of those nights when things weren’t going our way,” Sa Freire said. “You have to give them credit, because they played a really good game, but we just didn’t really get into our game and our offense never got going.”
Sunday saw a more energetic and aggressive Cardinal team against Oregon State, as it dominated possession throughout the match.
Gorskie said that the team found itself in a difficult position and reacted accordingly.
“We were all pretty disappointed starting off Pac-10 play 0-2, especially when we know we need to do well in order to get into the [NCAA] Tournament,” he said. “Sunday, we saw that we had nothing to lose and needed to do everything together.
“Right from the beginning we played aggressively and were energetic and had lots of possession,” he added. “It was a good game for us.”
The Cardinal will need more of that energy if it hopes to slow down UCLA, particularly since it will again be without the services of redshirt freshman Jason Dodson in goal. Dodson suffered a dislocated shoulder against Cal and will likely miss the remainder of the regular season.
In his absence, fellow redshirt freshman Galen Perkins has stepped up and — by all accounts — delivered.
“If there was one very positive thing from this weekend, it was Galen,” Sa Freire said. “He played very well and has really stepped up in his role this weekend.”
Perkins made his first two career starts and finished with nine saves and two goals allowed in 197 minutes, an impressive debut in a difficult situation on the road.
He will have his hands full Friday night against UCLA, and it won’t get much easier against San Diego State on Sunday.
The Aztecs (7-3-2, 1-2) have been flirting with the rankings throughout the year, falling from their No. 25 perch this week after a tough 1-0 loss at UCLA. They did, however, manage to hold off Washington, 4-3, in overtime with only 10 men and will be looking to rebound off the loss to the Bruins.
With a little under half the Pac-10 season complete, the pressure is mounting for the Cardinal to make a move and play its way into the postseason.
“We are really excited to play at home, and we love playing at home because we usually play well here and play our game,” Gorskie said. “But there’s no mistaking that we need to do very well in the second half of the Pac-10 season to move on. I think we are all ambitious to take on the challenge.”
Kickoff against UCLA will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with the game against the Aztecs slated for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Both games will be at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.