The Stanford men’s soccer team (13-2-3) will look to continue its magical season come Sunday afternoon, as they host the UC Irvine Anteaters in a second round clash in the NCAA tournament. Fresh off a Pac-12 league crown, the Card were awarded the 6th overall seed in the 48 team competition, and as a result received a bye into the second round.
UC Irvine earned its trip to the Farm Thursday evening, as they bested UNLV at home 3-0. A first-half brace from senior striker Cameron Iwasa put the Anteaters well in control at the break, while Dennis Martinez killed the game off with a quarter of an hour remaining.
The Big West side has been in good form as of late, unbeaten in their last four matches, with a marquee win away at eventual conference champions UCSB on Nov. 8. Thus far, it has been a decent season for the Southern California club, who finished second in the South division of the Big West Conference and T-4th overall.
In Sunday’s game, Irvine head coach Chris Volk will be looking to his heavy artillery to perform well, as his side will need to turn in a great performance to give them a chance of advancing. Leading scorer Eduardo Calzada (7 goals) will be one to watch in the attack, along with a brilliant supporting cast of playmakers. Junior Mats Bjurman assisted on both Iwasa goals in the UNLV match, while leading set-up man Gor Kirakosyan will also be looking to get in on the act.
As the Anteaters will most likely be outmatched for quality, expect the away side to compete with the grit of a second-rate prizefighter. While they may not possess the skill of their superiors, they will by no means let a lack of effort be the cause of their demise.
Stanford should be well equipped to counter their opposition, as their distinct style of possession-oriented soccer will be able to stretch the defense. Head coach Jeremy Gunn will want his side to possess the ball early and dictate the tempo of the game, leaving nothing to chance.
The Cardinal enters this match as the newly minted Pac-12 conference champions. It is the team’s first trophy since 2001, and was the result of one of the more dramatic run-ins in recent memory. Stanford went unbeaten in its final eight conference fixtures, and secured the championship in a Big Derby clash in Berkeley. The final league contest was full of late drama, as an overtime goal by Austin Meyer gave his squad the three points it needed to win the league.
The home side will welcome sophomore Jordan Morris back into the fold Sunday, after he missed the Cal match due to a senior USMNT call-up. Having earned his first cap in a 15 minute run-out against the Republic of Ireland, the precocious striker will be brimming with confidence come kickoff.
The return of Morris may present a bit of a selection headache for Gunn, who has striking options aplenty at his disposal. Senior Eric Verso was given the start at Cal in place of Morris, and validated his selection with an early goal. It is always touchy to leave an in-form striker on the bench, so it will be interesting to see how the Stanford manager utilizes his squad depth. US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann deployed Morris in a wide left role against the Irish, but the Seattle Sounders Academy graduate has played almost exclusively up front for the Cardinal.
Winger Bobby Edwards will also be looking to contribute in the attack after perhaps his best game of the year against the Golden Bears. The Danville, California native was a constant threat on the dribble and was unlucky not to score in the match.
The Cardinal will also require a strong defensive performance, as knockout fixtures are often low-scoring affairs. Keeping a clean sheet can often be the difference between advancing and going home. The traditional back four of Callinan, Nana-Sinkham, Hilliard-Arse and Vincent has been brilliant all year, and their cohesion has become more apparent each game. Look for the fullbacks to get involved in the attack and provide that extra spark.
For Stanford, the tournament could not have arrived at a better time. Momentum is an integral concept in football, and the Cardinal has that in spades now. But once the whistle blows, anything can happen.
The second round NCAA matchup with UC Irvine is at 5 p.m. on Sunday at Cagan Stadium and will be televised on Pac-12 Bay Area.
Contact Will Drinkwater at willydri ‘at’ stanford.edu.