In a battle of undefeated squads, No. 3 Stanford women’s soccer (10-0-2, 2-0-1 Pac-12) came out ahead in a 1-0 match, that was not as close as the final score would indicate, to win Sunday afternoon’s game against Washington State (7-1-2, 2-1-0), which broke a nine-match unbeaten streak for the Cougars to open the season.
Washington State had recently remodeled its women’s soccer program by hiring head coach Steve Nugent, but that was not enough to defeat the Cardinal, which have really seen their offense hit its stride this weekend to match one of the stingiest defenses in the nation.
Throughout the game, especially in the second half, Stanford’s offense was able to dominate possession and continually create opportunities for itself. With a total of 20 shots — seven in the first half and 13 in the second half — against just three for Washington State, there were many opportunities to score — including more than a few headers and decent looks from the box that barely missed, but Washington State’s defense held strong, as there were a total of four saves by Washington State goalkeeper Gurveen Clair.
Early on, the Cardinal were unable to finish on their numerous attacks due to the solid play of the Washington State back line. The Cougars’ center backs especially stayed tight on the Cardinal forwards early in the game. But as the game wore on, even as freshman forward Mariah Lee created many opportunities along with the other Cardinal attackers, Stanford was unable to find its key breakthrough to break the late tie.
And then in the 83rd minute, head coach Paul Ratcliffe made a substitution, putting in senior forward Chioma Ubogagu in place of Lee.
That move would prove to pay immediate dividends, as Ubogagu scored a goal just a minute later from center right on a well-placed assist from senior forward Haley Rosen. Ubogagu “came in fresh and wanted to prove that she could score a goal,” stated Ratcliffe, who believed that the Cardinal would score regardless of whom he put in because “it was just a matter of time.”
“Haley got the ball a little from the top of the box and was dribbling, and I just wanted to get wide for either her to take a shot or to play me,” Ubogagu said. “She chose to play me, and I tried to take my player one to one and get a shot near post on frame.”
When asked what changed during the second half of the game, in which Stanford looked much more aggressive on attack and controlled the game throughout, Ubogagu responded that Ratcliffe’s encouragement during halftime fostered a renewed vitality, and there were more attacks.
“Paul said we needed one more pass, and that would break them apart so we could get a solid chance on frame,” Ubogagu said. “[Washington State] was getting more fatigued, and that just opened up the chances.”
The weekend’s victories over Washington and Washington State displayed much better cohesion on offense and the unit working much more effectively as a whole to create opportunities and capitalize on those opportunities — as was shown when sophomore forward Ryan Walker-Hartshorn notched her second hat trick of the season on Friday.
“The movement is better, communication is better. Timing of runs and the finishing abilities are tremendous,” Ratcliffe said.
The win today, which resulted in a total of five goals this weekend against Pac-12 opponents, was a step forward for the offense after the missed opportunities in the tie with Utah, and Ratcliffe’s goal of the season is to keep pushing forward, particularly after the team struggled mightily to open Pac-12 play and, down the stretch, against conference opponents last season.
“I think this program, this culture and all the past players have built such a strong foundation, especially at home, and we owe it to them to continue that. We also owe it to Paul and ourselves. It means a lot that we got back on track,” Ubogagu said.
By defeating Washington State, only Stanford, UCLA and DePaul remain undefeated in NCAA Division I women’s soccer. That number will decrease by one when Stanford will take on the Bruins at UCLA on Thursday night at 8 p.m. in a monumental matchup against the defending national champions.
Contact Elizabeth Trinh at entrinh ‘at’ stanford.edu.