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Cardinal look to continue strong play against Cal Poly, BYU

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Second-ranked Stanford women’s soccer (2-0) travels to San Luis Obispo on Friday to take on Cal Poly (1-1-2) before returning home to play No. 9 BYU (3-0).

Junior Stephanie Amack (above) scored against Boston College, her first goal of the season, in the Cardinal's home opener. Earlier in the game, her header, which an Eagle player blocked with her hands, led to a goal off of a penalty kick from Andi Sullivan. (BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)
Junior Stephanie Amack (above) scored against Boston College, her first goal of the season, in the Cardinal’s home opener. Earlier in the game, her header, which an Eagle player blocked with her hands, led to a goal off of a penalty kick from Andi Sullivan. (BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

Friday’s match will be Cal Poly’s home opener after the Mustangs’ four tense road contests. After two draws, the Mustangs lost 2-0 to No. 1 Virginia in one of the nation’s most hostile road environments. The Cavaliers were just the start of a brutal opening schedule for Cal Poly, who face five preseason top 20 schools in the first month of the season.

The Mustangs have relied on Caitlyn Kreutz for a bulk of its goal scoring opportunities. The freshman put in both goals in Cal Poly’s win over Richmond and came closest to scoring in the 0-0 draw against USF.

The Cardinal’s back line and emerging offensive threats should be tested when BYU comes to Palo Alto. After starting the season ranked 19th, the Cougars have climbed up the standings with three shutouts from goalkeeper Rachel Boaz. Forward Ashley Hatch, a MAC Hermann trophy candidate for the nation’s outstanding player, has been nearly impossible to guard, recording two goals in three games. Led by Hatch’s outstanding play, the Cougars have exceeded expectations and could end the season with a deep run in the playoffs.

Like the Cougars, the Cardinal has displayed its championship potential early in the season, helped in part by the nation’s top recruiting class.

The Cardinal’s run to the College Cup semifinals last season was built on the stout defensive play of goalkeeper Jane Campbell and the back four defenders, who kept 17 clean sheets.

During the first two games of this season, the Cardinal have mostly kept their opponents off the scoreboard — having only conceded one goal to Hawaii — by giving them few chances at the ball.

In its comprehensive 4-0 beating of Boston College last Friday, the Cardinal kept possession for 67 percent of the game, most of it in the Eagles’ half of the field. This time-of-possession advantage has allowed the Cardinal to take 48 shots on goal in its first two games while conceding only seven.

Stanford’s impressive control of the ball has also given its young players plenty of opportunities in their opponents’ final third. Freshman Michelle Xiao is shaping up to be the most dangerous option for a Cardinal attack that lost its three leading goal scorers from last season. Xiao’s two goals and 10 shots on goal have both paced the team, and her emergence has allowed the Cardinal to translate its ball-dominant play into major chances at goal.

“Michelle’s a dynamic player, [she’s] so technically gifted,” head coach Paul Ratcliffe said after the match against Boston College. “We were excited to see her score two quality goals.”

While Xiao’s play has given Stanford a spark during open play, the Cardinal have done a majority of damage on set pieces. Junior left back Stephanie Amack, the Cardinal’s tallest starter at 5’ 10”, scored a goal off a Haley Rosen free kick in the Boston College game and had another promising header that an Eagles player blocked with her hand, leading to a red card and a penalty kick, which sophomore midfielder Andi Sullivan converted on.

Sullivan, a preseason MAC Hermann candidate, has become the primary penalty taker for Stanford and has scored two of the Cardinal’s six goals in its first two games of 2015. Before scoring off of the penalty kick against Boston College, Sullivan netted the equalizing goal for Stanford in its game against Hawaii off of a rebound from Amack’s blocked shot.

The Cardinal become even more dangerous on set pieces when Ratcliffe subs in freshmen Averie Collins or junior Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, tall forwards who can play strong in the air. Collins is one of five freshmen who have seen playing time this season, and the top-rated class provides key depth for the Cardinal.

“It’s so cool to see everyone get a chance to get on the field and contribute,” Campbell told Pac-12 Networks. “That gives a lot of confidence going into the rest of the season.”

The team takes on Cal Poly on Friday, September 4 at 7 p.m. before returning to the Farm to face BYU, a game rescheduled from the team’s Hawaii trip, on Monday, September 7 at 7 p.m.

Contact Sanjay Srinivas at ssri16 ‘at’ stanford.edu.