Sixth-ranked Stanford women’s soccer (6-1) won its second straight overtime match on Thursday, defeating UC Davis (5-3-1) by a 1-0 final score.
After a scoreless 90 minutes that were dominated by the Cardinal, freshman Michelle Xiao netted the winner early in the first overtime period.
The winning play was set up by sophomore Kyra Carusa, whose run to the right side saved the ball from going out for a goal kick. The forward then found Xiao in front of the box. After faking a shot and then bringing the ball to her favored left foot, Xiao beat Aggies goalkeeper Alexis Smith for the game-ending goal.
“Kyra worked so hard to get the ball in and played the perfect ball to me,” said Xiao after the match. “I saw a defender coming, so I just took a touch and placed it.”
A Cardinal goal seemed inevitable in the second half, in which some personnel tweaks from head coach Paul Ratcliffe keyed a flurry of quality Stanford chances.
After playing the first half at center back to replace an injured Maddie Bauer, sophomore Andi Sullivan played all over the field for the rest of the game. Sullivan’s move up the pitch gave junior Siobhan Cox her first playing time of the season at center back and moved freshman Tegan McGrady to left back.
“Because we weren’t breaking the ice and getting that goal, I made a lot of adjustments to see if [UC Davis players] were vulnerable and to see where players could step up,” Ratcliffe said. “And they all did well in their different spots.”
Many of the Cardinal’s promising chances in the second half came along the left side, where McGrady’s speed and ability to take on defenders made her a dangerous presence.
“Tegan was getting in the attack, overlapping and getting some crosses in,” Ratcliffe noted. “She and Michelle were playing really well together.”
McGrady’s pairing with Xiao up the left flank seemed to make each player stronger. With McGrady occupying the touchline and wider areas, Xiao was free to cut in, taking several shots at the net from long distance.
“We combine so well together,” said Xiao of her fellow freshman. “We’ve played together a lot before and I just know when she plays me the ball, she’ll go around me and I can find her every time.”
Despite the dangerous crosses in from McGrady and Xiao, Stanford’s attacking players were struggling to put the ball in the net. Absent many quality chances in the first half, Sullivan, Xiao and Haley Rosen resorted to long-range efforts at goal, most of which sailed over the net or were easily stopped by Smith.
Once the chances came, the Cardinal seemed to do everything but put the ball in the net, hitting two crossbars and barely missing on several other shots. Xiao’s goal was the Cardinal’s 23rd shot of the night, a number that reflects both the Cardinal’s dominant play for most of the match and their shortcomings in the final third.
“We’ve just got to take our chances,” Ratcliffe said. “We didn’t finish the chances we got, and it got harder and harder. They were well-organized and gave us a hard game.”
The Cardinal’s goal-scoring woes are clearly not due to a lack of attacking talent; many of the young attackers have produced brilliant displays, and almost the entire incoming freshmen class has scored at least once.
However, goal-scoring remains the only facet of the game the Cardinal are not executing at a championship level. Ahead of Sunday’s game at Santa Clara (4-3) and upcoming conference play, Ratcliffe’s side has to make the most of the ample chances it is creating.
“We’re playing a good brand of soccer, attractive, attacking play. We need to have those players that technically finish the chances,” Ratcliffe said, adding that his young attackers need more repetitions to build their confidence and make their finishing more clinical.
Santa Clara should provide little relief for the Cardinal’s offensive woes. The Broncos are a stout defensive squad, having recorded four shutouts and having held opponents to just five goals on the season. Santa Clara, like Stanford, is coming off a win against Oklahoma and a loss against No. 4 Penn State. The Broncos played the Nittany Lions tough, recording several scoring chances and getting a stellar performance from goalkeeper Andi Tostanoski.
The Cardinal’s experience this season in tight games will likely prove useful on Sunday and throughout the rest of the campaign, especially if they cannot capitalize on their opportunities at goal.
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu.