By Jack Seaton
The Stanford women’s soccer team returns to Cagan Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m. for what is likely to be a heated NCAA 2nd round matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks (9-6-6, 4-4-3 SEC). Stanford (18-1-2, 9-1-1 Pac-12) will be looking to continue its fine form that has seen the squad win eight straight games. When it comes to the NCAA tournament, however, every team has a chance and despite being a favorite, Stanford will need to be cautious with Arkansas in the round of 32.
— Stanford Soccer (@StanfordWSoccer) November 19, 2014
The Razorbacks will be looking to play through junior forward Ashleigh Ellenwood to create some offensive output against the strong Cardinal defense. Ellenwood is the points leader for Arkansas, largely through her incredible distributive abilities. Ellenwood has tallied 14 assists this season — double anyone else on her team — and Stanford will need to shut her down in order to stifle the Arkansas attack.
Arkansas could face trouble if they aren’t able to solidify their defense, which has been shaky all season. They have only recorded six clean sheets over the course of the campaign, and have let in 27 goals in the process. This Stanford team, which has averaged five goals a game over the last three matches, will pose a real threat to the Razorbacks’ back line.
Stanford is aiming to muster a similar, if not higher, level performance than what it has turned out all season, but will be hoping to erase its recent defensive troubles. Four of the 10 goals Stanford has conceded this season have come in the last two games, and although the Cardinal still managed to win both of those games, defensive complacency could prove dangerous.
If head coach Paul Ratcliffe can continue to get the best out of his forwards in this matchup — like he has been doing for weeks now — Stanford will have no issue on the offensive end of the pitch. Forwards Chioma Ubogagu and Taylor Uhl had spectacular performances against Cal State Fullerton, scoring 3 and 2 goals, respectively. After early season scoring troubles from the forwards, they have managed to flip their fortunes around completely, a turnaround demonstrated most strikingly by Uhl, who has scored all nine of her goals in the last third of the season.
Stanford has heated up at the opportune moment heading into the end of this season, and it is pivotal that it can keep the momentum rolling. An early defensive blunder could be a big hurdle for the Cardinal, so it will be crucial that they come out strong against an Arkansas team that has been known to loosen up defensively as the game progresses. Of the 27 goals that the Razorbacks have conceded, 18 of them have come after halftime.
The Cardinal have posted a near-perfect 11-0-1 home record this season and as the tournament progresses, the home field advantages they built up by earning the No. 1 seed could prove more and more useful. If all goes according to plan, Stanford will move on to the Round of 16 in a matchup against the winner of the No. 4 Washington and Missouri match.
Contact Jack Seaton at jrseaton ‘at’ stanford.edu.