Eighth-ranked Stanford women’s soccer (6-2-0) travels to Salt Lake City on Friday to open Pac-12 play against Utah (3-3-3).
The Cardinal are coming off a difficult 1-0 loss to No. 23 Santa Clara in which they were outshot for the first time all season. In the Cardinal’s first seven games, their possession-based style of play functioned as both offense and defense, helping them generate chances in the opponents’ final third without giving up the ball.
When they did give the ball up, the Cardinal would press aggressively, quickly winning the ball back. This relentless approach often devastates Stanford’s opponents, who frequently go the entire game without a meaningful look at goal.
Sunday’s loss to Santa Clara was different. When the Cardinal gave up the ball, the Broncos were able to link passes together and start their offense. The result was a back-and-forth contest punctuated by good offensive development and even better defense from both teams.
Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said the possession game didn’t work because “we didn’t get into our rhythm…That’s the key for us, we need to get into a good rhythm to play good soccer.”
While this may be true of most teams, it has been especially true of the Cardinal. Most of Stanford’s goals this season have been beautifully coordinated efforts, linking well-timed passes and crosses with good runs at goal. For a Cardinal team full of incisive passers but still lacking finishing quality, rhythm and timing are essential to provide offense.
Fortunately, the Cardinal have not lost their rhythm on defense. Goalkeeper Jane Campbell and the Stanford back four continue to show impeccable form in open play. After showing vulnerability on the counterattack in the loss to Penn State, the Cardinal defended the Broncos well, conceding a late toss-up goal from a corner-kick.
Stanford’s opponent on Friday, the Utah Utes, has started slow in its efforts to rebound from a disappointing 2014 season. In what seems to be a perfect opportunity for the Stanford attack, the Utes have given up 114 shots through their first 9 games. Goalkeeper Lindsay Luke has been incredibly active, leading the Pac-12 with just under five saves a game (Campbell, who is rarely as busy, has saved about two shots per game).
The Utes came into this contest last season on a hot streak, winning seven of their first nine games before drawing the Cardinal 1-1. This year, the Utes have struggled to recapture that form, losing some close matches and failing to find reliable goal scorers. The Utes have scored 11 goals this season from nine different players. Mariah Elmer, who scored against Stanford last year, has 2 goals for the Utes this season and has started her sophomore campaign as one of Utah’s dangerous attacking options.
Although the two teams have widely different expectations for the season, they enter Friday’s game with the same basic problem: the need to support a high-caliber defense with goals.
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu.