With a 2-1 upset of No. 13 UCLA Friday night and a hard-fought 1-0 victory against San Diego State on Sunday afternoon, the Stanford men’s soccer team moved past the .500 mark and into the heart of the Pac-10 title race. At 7-6 overall and 3-2 in Pac-10 play, the Cardinal sits just one game behind co-leaders California and UCLA with five regular-season games remaining.
A huge crowd of over 2,000 turned out to support the Cardinal against the rival Bruins. UCLA (8-3-1, 3-1-0) came in riding a four-game winning streak and was undefeated in Pac-10 play.
But for one of the first times this year, Stanford came to play right out of the gate. The Cardinal was clearly the aggressor and dominated possession early, creating a few good opportunities in the first 15 minutes as the Bruins looked overwhelmed.
The breakthrough came in the 23rd minute when sophomore midfielder Dersu Abolfathi dribbled through a defender and into the box, only to be brought down before he could get a shot off. The referee signaled for a penalty kick, and senior defender and captain Bobby Warshaw calmly stepped up and slotted the ball into the corner for the early 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to energize the Bruins, however, as they picked up the pace and settled in. UCLA ended up outshooting the Cardinal 8-5 in the half, even though most of the shots were relatively harmless from the outside. Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Galen Perkins was forced into two saves and cleaned up several corner kicks and crosses into the box.
Perkins and the back four were up to the challenge, and the game remained 1-0 at halftime. UCLA came out like gangbusters to open the second half, fighting for every ball and pinning the Cardinal in its own half. Perkins was repeatedly challenged and made three saves in the first 20 minutes.
“Galen’s done very well for us,” Abolfathi said. “[Injured goalie Jason Dodson’s] shoes are pretty hard to fill, but he’s done it well. He has shown the ability to keep us in games with his saves, and he has distributed the ball well to start the attack.”
It took a first-class effort from UCLA freshman standout Kelyn Rowe to beat Perkins. Rowe took a pass from Ryan Hollingshead in the 73rd minute and carried it straight up the middle of the field before taking a shot that bent past the diving Perkins and into the upper left-hand corner for the equalizer.
The Bruins continued to press for the game-winner, but Perkins stopped several shots in the final 15 minutes to keep Stanford level.
With five minutes to play, Abolfathi and sophomore forward Adam Jahn returned as substitutes and made an impact almost instantly. Junior forward Taylor Amman flicked a ball in the middle of the field to Jahn, who played it on to a streaking Abolfathi. One-on-one with the keeper, the young midfielder placed a shot inside the left post to set off a wild celebration at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
“I literally just stepped on the field, and you can hear him [the PA announcer] announcing my name [as a substitute] in the film of the goal,” Abolfathi said. “Taylor did well to flick it, and Adam used his body to open the gap for me. It was simple, but I’ll take it.”
The Cardinal had to work hard to avoid a letdown against San Diego State (7-5-1, 1-4) two days later, but Perkins was up to the challenge. In the freshman’s fourth career game, he stopped six shots and earned his second shutout.
Warshaw said that he felt in the preseason that Perkins was destined to make a positive impact on the team.
“I sat down with Galen before the East Coast trip, and you could just tell he would help us from the way he handled being in a difficult situation [as the backup goalkeeper] and just his approach,” Warshaw said. “He is a great guy who shows up and works hard every day.
“No one on the team is surprised with how well he has done,” he added.
For all their offensive troubles, the Aztecs did stymie the Cardinal offense in the first half. Their use of an offside trap caught Stanford’s attackers eight times in the first 45 minutes.
But San Diego State was done in when it failed to cover senior defender Cameron Lamming in the 78th minute. Lamming headed a corner kick from junior midfielder Clayton Holz into the net for his first goal of the year, and the defense held firm to complete the weekend sweep.
The season-opening four-game losing streak looks to be a thing of the past as the Cardinal hits the midpoint of the Pac-10 season firmly in the thick of things. The team sits in prime position to make a deep run if it can maintain its recent success.
Stanford will have to prove itself almost immediately with another stiff test against UCLA on Friday, this time in Los Angeles. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. The Cardinal will also face San Diego State again next weekend in San Diego, Calif.