Sixth-ranked Stanford women’s soccer (5-1) ends its four-game homestand against UC Davis (5-2-1) on Thursday night.
The Cardinal dominated possession in each of their first six games, recording 118 shots while conceding only 27, but head coach Paul Ratcliffe’s side has not made the most of its opportunities.
While the Cardinal have been incredibly proficient at building up play through their aggressive fullbacks, their overwhelming possession on ball hasn’t generated many quality goal-scoring chances.
Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Oklahoma may have represented a change in offensive strategy that can reap more goals.
The Cardinal continued to build up along the flanks but also utilized senior forward Haley Rosen in a more creative central role. Rosen’s strong shot and clever dribbling allows the Cardinal to play more directly, taking on defenders inside the penalty area instead of relying on crosses along the touchline.
Rosen put her offensive skills on full display against the Sooners, scoring on a low left-footed shot from just outside the box and assisting on Tegan McGrady’s winning goal in overtime. As the primary set-piece taker, Rosen’s heavy shot makes her a threat to score directly or set up her teammates.
“Haley was one of our best players, if not our best player, today,” Ratcliffe said. “She made a big impact on the game and her free kicks have been incredible.”
Utilizing Rosen can also allow the Cardinal to maintain a more solid defensive position, which minimizes the chances of an opposing counterattack. The Cardinal were victims of their own aggressiveness against Penn State on Friday, when turnovers led to decisive counter play from the Nittany Lions’ quick forwards.
The outstanding play of goalkeeper Jane Campbell and central defenders Maddie Bauer and Alana Cook has allowed the rest of the players to venture further up the field. While width and aggressiveness have allowed the Cardinal to maintain a majority of possession in all of their games, Ratcliffe must balance time on ball with sound defensive alignment. Delegating more offensive responsibility to central attackers like Rosen may be a solution for the Cardinal to achieve both.
While Rosen gives Stanford multiple ways to generate scoring chances, the Cardinal’s forwards are not regularly capitalizing on those chances. After a promising four-goal home debut, Stanford has scored just four times in as many games.
“We should have scored more goals and that came back to haunt us in the end,” said Ratcliffe after narrowly defeating Oklahoma. “We were creating the chances, we just need to take our chances and finish them.”
UC Davis, Stanford’s opponent on Thursday, shares a similar offensive philosophy with the Cardinal. Through eight games, the Aggies have a nearly two-to-one shot advantage over their opponents. Most of those shots have come from forward Rachel Smith, who has already scored five goals this season. Smith’s goals are most often assisted by Mandy McKeegan, a midfielder and the team’s primary free kick taker.
With just a week left until conference play starts, the Cardinal look like a talented squad that can contend nationally, especially when Ratcliffe’s young attackers can settle down and capitalize on spectacular play behind them.
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu.