No. 2 Stanford women’s soccer (4-0-0) ended Labor Day Weekend with 1-0 victories over Cal Poly (2-2-2) on Friday and No. 9 BYU (4-1-0) on Monday. The Cardinal took both games on the strength of dominant possession, incisive passing and ferocious on-ball defense – traits head coach Paul Ratcliffe’s side has demonstrated throughout the early season.
Both games had little payoff for Stanford’s impressive build-up play, as the Cardinal narrowly missed several chances at goal. The breakthrough against Cal Poly came with just six minutes to play when senior midfielder Haley Rosen found junior forward Ryan Walker-Hartshorn on the left side of the penalty box. Walker-Hartshorn turned, using her body to shield the ball from her defender, and easily put in her first goal of the season.
Stanford’s second match of the weekend was originally scheduled for Aug. 24 in Hawaii, but a weather cancellation moved the game forward. Ratcliffe knew the Cardinal would have to start stronger against a BYU team that had been successful controlling possession and setting up the Cougars’ standout forward Ashley Hatch.
“[The Cougars] have jumped out on their opponents and scored early,” Ratcliffe noted after the game. “So our objective was to be really strong and aggressive in the first 15 minutes, and I thought we did.”
Stanford’s aggressiveness was evident from the first minute of play, when sophomore forward Mariah Lee sent in a dangerous cross from the right side. Lee and senior defender Laura Liedle continued to establish high attacking positions, linking up multiple times during a dominating first half. Liedle and junior Stephanie Amack gave the Cardinal attack a wide base, stretching the Cougars’ defense thin and opening up space for forwards Rosen and Kyra Carusa.
“When we get the ball out wide, we’re so much more dangerous,” midfielder Jordan DiBiasi said. “[Our outside players] are so quick and technical, and they can take on their players and get quality services in.”
The Cardinal’s strong play from the flanks moved midfielder Andi Sullivan into a deep-lying defensive role for most of the first half, a slight change for the sophomore who generally plays from penalty box to penalty box.
Sullivan responded with brilliant defensive play, stopping Cougar midfielders before they had the chance to build up play to the dangerous Hatch. Sullivan’s on-ball pressure, coupled with close marking from center backs Maddie Bauer and Alana Cook, kept the reigning WCC Player of the Year in check for most of the game, holding Hatch to a single shot on goal.
Stanford’s control out wide led to the game-winning goal in the 32nd minute, when Carusa one-touched Liedle’s cross toward DiBiasi. The freshman midfielder’s run brought her wide of the goal, where she side-footed the ball past Cougars’ goalkeeper Rachel Boaz for the first goal the Cougars have conceded all season.
“It was a combination of quick touch passes. Kyra had a great layoff, and then it was just a one-time finish,” DiBiasi said after scoring her first collegiate goal.
Stanford had several chances to put the game away in the first 45 minutes. Ten minutes into the game, Rosen’s clever maneuvering created a one-on-one for Carusa, but the ball hit her back foot and was cleared away. Junior forward Megan Turner’s overlapping run led to a cross that Walker-Hartshorn headed promisingly at goal, but Boaz was there to save.
Ratcliffe frequently made substitutions in the front three in order to find a lineup that could finish the Cardinal’s frequent scoring chances. Fortunately, the Stanford attacking force is a deep, young group that Ratcliffe feels comfortably rotating in.
“The finishing still needs to get stronger,” the coach said of his young group. “We have a lot of depth up there, and we’re looking for the right combination of spots.”
Stanford faces another top-ten foe on Friday, when seventh-ranked Penn State comes to Cagan Stadium. The match kicks off at 8 p.m.
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu.