The No. 4 Stanford women’s soccer team was back in action Thursday night at Cagan Stadium, looking to extend their home unbeaten run to 11 matches. Coach Paul Ratcliffe’s outfit would be facing a sputtering Oregon Ducks side that had lost four on the trot. A tight, and at times dare I say dreary match saw both teams unable to score in regular time. However, Cardinal senior Lo’eau LaBonta played hero in the 95th minute, sealing the three points for her team.
With the Ducks supremely outmatched for skill at nearly every position, it quickly became evident that the Eugene club was content to sit in and allow Stanford possession. At times, Oregon could be seen employing a bank of five defenders along the back line. This tactic was noticed early by Ratcliffe, who welcomed the situation as preparation for the NCAA tournament.
“When we get to the playoffs, this is the type of game you will get,” said Ratcliffe.
Oregon’s bunkering defensive tactics put a premium on clear-cut chances for Stanford, although 26 official shots were tallied in favor of the Card.
The first half saw two glittering chances go begging, with countless more half-chances and attacking patterns of play from the Cardinal.
The sixth minute saw stand-in right back Hannah Farr, who was active the entire night, deliver a ball into the box that eventually fell to LaBonta, who shot high from only eight yards.
It was not until the stroke of halftime that the Cardinal again produced a potentially lethal attempt. Left back Laura Lidle popped up on the right and whipped in a cross from near 30 yards out to the head of Taylor Uhl, who was unable to produce the requisite power and headed over.
The second half was much of the same from the Cardinal outfit, as they continued to create chances but struggled to produce enough quality to merit a goal.
Winger Chi Ubogagu had a handful of opportunities to convert, most notably an eye-catching half-volley effort that was dipping but went over the bar.
Soon after, LaBonta produced the outright best chance of the half with a scorcher from 25 yards, but Oregon keeper Abby Steele smartly tipped the ball over for a corner.
As the match wore on, it looked more and more like it was not to be for the Card, as chance after chance went awry. A fluffed Ubogagu first time effort off a cross about summed up the match, although she was unlucky minutes prior not to score on a solo effort on the top of the box, again sending a shot over the frame.
The final whistle blew with neither team displaying enough assertiveness to warrant the points, and should NCAA soccer be played akin to the professional game, a draw would have been a fair result.
Alas, twenty extra minutes would be supplied in an effort to find a winner. LaBonta assured only five of those minutes would be necessary, though, as she scored a true opportunist’s goal on a rebound from a Taylor Uhl shot.
A pass was played to the feet of the Minnesota transfer on the edge of the area, and a couple of crafty turns created the half yard of space needed for her to fire a shot. Keeper Steele was only able to parry, but straight into the path of a charging LaBonta, who beat the center backs to the ball and stuffed it calmly in the back of the net. The Rancho Cucamonga playmaker hailed her team’s patience after the match, and was undoubtedly pleased with securing the win for her team.
“We just kept playing our game,” she said. “We tried to keep with the one and two-touch [passing]… and hopefully tire down the other team.”
Ratcliffe also pointed to a tactical switch that helped tip the scales in favor of the home side.
“We wanted to change things a little bit,” he said. “We wanted to start going inside instead of outside, and then try to find the central striker on a diagonal run. That’s how we ended up scoring, and we were fortunate that it worked out in our favor.”
As this game showed, there are no easy points in the Pac-12, and the Cardinal will be thrilled to notch a win in such a drudgy contest. The win moves Stanford level with UCLA on points, but the Bruins have a game in hand.
The Cardinal return to Cagan Sunday from 3pm, playing cellar-dwellars Oregon State, who have yet to earn a point in the Pac-12, and are still winless in this campaign.
Contact Will Drinkwater at willydri ‘at’ stanford.edu.