Two tough 1-0 losses on the road against UCLA and San Diego State this past weekend dropped the Stanford men’s soccer team (7-8-0, 3-4-0 Pac-10) below .500 on the season and in the Pac-10, making this weekend’s last homestand against Washington and Oregon State crucial in the push for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Sunday afternoon against Oregon State is also Senior Day, marking the last time Stanford’s seven graduating seniors will suit up at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Head coach Bret Simon said that this senior class has done a lot to help make his job easier.
“This is a fantastic group of guys who are all team leaders, and they make up a big chunk of what we are as a team,” he said. “I think our team will change dramatically without them here next year. All of them have been leaders in practice, and they’ve made sure the rest of the team is prepared and focused. They have all matured and grown as players and people while they’ve been here, and they have made my job a lot more rewarding.”
Three of the Cardinal’s four defenders are among those leaving the Farm, including standout Bobby Warshaw. The senior from Mechanicsburg, Pa., is a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award as well as the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the nation’s top Division I player.
The outcome of Friday’s game against Washington (8-4-1, 2-3-0) likely hinges on Stanford’s defense — in the seven Cardinal victories, opponents have scored just two goals. In the other eight, Stanford has allowed 14 goals.
For their part, the Huskies had a seven-game unbeaten streak early in the season, but slipped heading into Pac-10 play and are currently fourth in the Pac-10.
In the last meeting between the teams on Oct. 8, Stanford struggled with the Huskies’ aerial prowess, letting in two quick goals to open the second half in Seattle and eventually losing 2-0. Washington leads the all-time series 24-14-4.
Cardinal sophomore defender Hunter Gorskie said that in order to get a positive result, Stanford will have to play within itself.
“We have to really try and impose our will on them,” he said. “We need to play the ball on the ground and keep it moving. [Washington is] very athletic, and the last game played into their style because there were a lot of balls in the air. In order to win, we have to be patient.”
Sunday’s game figures to be a little easier than Friday’s, but not by much. The Beavers (6-6-0, 1-4-0) will be coming off two full weeks of rest since their last game, and they played Stanford tight in their last matchup on Oct. 10. The Cardinal pulled out a tough 1-0 victory with a golden goal from senior Dominique Yahyavi in double overtime. The Beavers have allowed a league-high 26 goals this year and are the only Pac-10 team not to have been ranked at any point this season.
Opponents’ records and rankings do not factor into how Simon handles the game plan.
“We really have to take each game individually and then move on and prepare for the next one,” Simon said. “This stretch of four straight weekends with back-to-back games is really tough, so we can’t really have overarching goals.
“That’s how you get off track,” he continued. “In the end, the results will take care of themselves if everyone has the right preparation.”
The Cardinal dug itself a sizeable hole by losing the first four games of the year, but there is still the possibility of reaching the postseason if some things fall into place. The NCAA Tournament hands out 48 bids once all the regular season matchups are complete, and Stanford isn’t out of the running yet.
But, as Simon said, “The most important thing for us is to take one game at a time. We’d be making a big mistake if we looked at them as a whole.
“If we get some good results, we have a shot at going to the tournament even though it’s not automatic. We certainly have lots to play for.”
Stanford’s final postseason push begins Friday night at 7 p.m. against Washington. Senior Day against Oregon State is Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. Both games will be played at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.