The men’s soccer team currently sits third in the Pac-10 standings behind co-leaders UCLA and Cal, but a southern California road trip this weekend gives Stanford a chance to continue its climb towards the postseason.
Tonight, the Cardinal (7-6-0, 3-2-0 Pac-10) squares off against No. 11 UCLA (9-3-1, 4-1-0) in a rematch of last Friday’s thrilling 2-1 victory on the Farm. Then on Sunday afternoon, the squad will have to deal with a tough San Diego State squad that has been ranked in the top 25 this year, but has started off Pac-10 play with a disappointing record of 1-4.
UCLA has yet to lose at home this season, going a perfect 6-0 thus far and outscoring its opponents 13-4 in Westwood. Further adding to the challenge is Stanford’s historical difficulty playing at UCLA. In the 43 years that both schools have kept full records, Stanford has never defeated the Bruins on the road.
In order to get a positive result, the team will need to really stick to the game plan and forget about the past, according to head coach Bret Simon.
“The most important thing is to forget about last week’s win, forget about the other results, and get ready to give everything for this one game,” he said. “It is a big game, but their field is the same size as ours, we’ve played games at 7:00 before, and we will do it again. From the outside this game is no different.”
The players have reiterated that stance all week long.
Senior defender and captain Bobby Warshaw said that each match is a battle of its own.
“It’s all kind of the same game plan for us no matter who we’re playing. It comes down to how we are going to execute,” he said.
Stanford’s execution has been improving from its initial four-game losing streak that saw the Cardinal fall from the national rankings. The scoring load has been shouldered mainly by senior forward Dominique Yahyavi, with five goals, and Warshaw, with four. That said, six players have combined for Stanford’s 16 total goals.
In the back, Simon has settled on a defensive quartet of veteran players — seniors Cameron Lamming, Warshaw and Ryan Thomas, and junior Tommy Ryan. Redshirt freshman Galen Perkins has stepped up to replace injured goalie Jason Dodson, and together the unit has only allowed seven goals since starting off 0-4 and just one goal in the past three games.
The defense will be hard-pressed to stop UCLA again, especially given the red-hot play of freshman Kelyn Rowe. The midfielder scored the lone goal in Friday’s loss, and added to his impressive young career with a golden goal in the Bruins’ upset win over Cal on Sunday. Rowe leads UCLA with six goals and five assists, and his point total ranks second in the Pac-10.
Perkins is eager for the challenge against a good team with a lot on the line.
“With them being at home, under the lights, they’re going to come out with a ton of energy,” he said. “They came into our game expecting to beat us, so I’m sure losing was a sore subject. The main thing will be who brings the most energy. I wouldn’t expect too many changes tactically, so I think it should be a really tight game.”
The rematch Sunday against San Diego State will feature the offensive talents of Aztec Raymundo Reza against Stanford’s backline. Reza was frustrated last game by the Cardinal defense — the senior managed only three shots and played just 51 minutes.
The Aztecs are expected to come out firing in hopes of reversing their cold spell.
Just five regular season games remain, and at 7-6-1, an NCAA Tournament berth is still within Stanford’s reach. Unfortunately, the schedule is not exactly favorable from here on out.
After the road trip through southern California, the Cardinal comes home to face Washington and Oregon State before finishing on the road at No. 12 Cal.
Warshaw and the rest of the team don’t have any interest in looking ahead.
“The only thing that matters is that UCLA will be a tough place to play this weekend, and we have to keep getting better at practice,” Warshaw said. “It’s the same old answer as every week, but it makes me proud to say that we don’t talk about winning out, Pac-10 titles or the NCAA Tournament. In the locker room we’re talking about how we’re going to work hard at 7:45 tomorrow morning at practice.”
Kickoff from Drake Stadium is tonight at 7 p.m., and the Card will face the Aztecs on Sunday at 1 p.m.