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With rejuvenated offense, women’s soccer set to face Oregon State

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No. 5 Stanford women’s soccer (9-2, 3-0 Pac-12) returns home to face Oregon State (5-3-3, 1-2-0 Pac-12) tonight.

After struggling to score for most of their nonconference schedule, the Cardinal regularly found the back of the net in each of their three Pac-12 wins, recording nine goals against Utah, Arizona State and Arizona.

STANFORD, CA - September 11, 2015: The Stanford Cardinal vs Penn State Nittany Lions women's soccer match in Stanford, California. Final score, Stanford 0, Penn State 2.
Sophomore midfielder Andi Sullivan (left) has led an offensive resurgence for the fifth-ranked Cardinal, scoring two long-distance goals in two games last week against Arizona State and Arizona. (DAVID BERNAL/isiphoto.com)

Stanford’s offensive resurgence has been led from the middle of the field, where sophomore midfielder Andi Sullivan has taken a greater role in the Cardinal offense.

Sullivan, last season’s national freshman of the year, scored two long-distance goals in two games last week, showcasing her finishing ability in addition to the stellar passing and dribbling she has displayed all season.

Sullivan’s many talents have made her exact role for coach Paul Ratcliffe and the Cardinal a little unclear. Early this season, Sullivan had been deployed more as a defensive midfielder who made long passes forward to key the Stanford attack. Sullivan even featured as a center back against UC Davis when regular starter Maddie Bauer sat due to injury.

In conference play, Ratcliffe has moved Sullivan up the pitch, giving some of her defensive responsibilities to impressive freshman Jordan DiBiasi and allowing her the freedom to make runs forward. This development has better engaged the Stanford forwards up the middle, particularly the quicker players who benefit from more off-ball space.

The two main beneficiaries of Sullivan’s move forward have been fifth-year senior Haley Rosen and sophomore Kyra Carusa. Although Rosen and Sullivan have similar styles of play, the senior was not a focal point of the offense during non-conference play, struggling to influence games with so much of the attacks made up the sides of the field.

With Sullivan as a crucial link between midfield and attack, Rosen has been able to shine, also scoring twice last weekend and becoming the Cardinal’s leading shot-taker. Rosen’s plays from the “Number 10” attacking midfielder position have made Stanford a direct, versatile offensive force.

The Cardinal’s increased emphasis on playing through Sullivan and Rosen will greatly benefit whoever plays at center forward, but Carusa’s off-ball play has made her a particularly good fit. Though her game-winning goal against Arizona was scored off a corner kick and not in open play, she will likely have plenty of similar goal-poaching opportunities if Sullivan and Rosen keep up their stellar form.

The resurgence of Stanford’s offense comes at a bad time for Oregon State. The Beavers have had a rocky start to conference play, losing to Utah and USC before comprehensively beating Colorado 2-0. Midfielder Natalie Higgins plays a role similar to Rosen’s, making runs up the middle and posing a threat to shoot from a distance or set up her teammates. Mariah Roggow and super-sub Allison Pantuso are most likely to be on the receiving end of those passes, as they have scored five of the Beavers’ 12 goals between the two of them.

While Ratcliffe has long said that it would take time for his young forwards to find their proper roles, it has been changes in the midfield that have the Cardinal running through the Pac-12 in strong form.

Stanford will face off against Oregon State on Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

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