After a standout performance on Sunday against No. 16 Oregon State (7-4-1, 2-1-1 Pac-12), No. 3 Stanford men’s soccer (9-1-1, 2-0-1) is looking well on its way towards winning another Pac-12 Championship. To continue that campaign, the Cardinal travel south this weekend to face off against conference foes UCLA (6-5-0, 2-1-0) and San Diego State (5-4-2, 0-3-0).
With the Cardinal on top in the Pac-12 standings and not having dropped a conference match thus far, they go into this weekend’s games with confidence and poise and, as many may not have predicted before the season started, as the favorite.
Last year, UCLA was a force to be reckoned with, finishing second in the nation and runner-up for the national championship. Despite the Bruins’ success last season, the upstart Cardinal tied both of their games against UCLA.
This year, the roles seem to be reversed, with UCLA coming into this match unranked against the dominant Cardinal. The Bruins graduated four starting seniors — including Leo Stolz, the 2014 MAC Hermann Trophy Player of the Year who tallied a team-high 9 goals for UCLA in 2014, as well as two other MLS Super Draft picks — from last year’s talented squad.
After taking on UCLA, Stanford will play San Diego State on Sunday. Even though the Aztecs are reeling and coming off three conference losses, SDSU remains a serious opponent for the Cardinal. Fifth-year senior Rene Reyes leads the team in scoring with 4 goals. Junior Casey Macias and sophomore Jeroen Meefout follow behind him with 2 goals apiece.
This season has been all about defense for the Cardinal, who have allowed just 5 goals this season. Junior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein has only been called upon to make 22 saves in total, and the Cardinal have not allowed a goal at Cagan Stadium in 343 minutes.
Sophomore Drew Skundrich has become a new centerpiece for Stanford’s back line. With a stunning assist in last Sunday’s game against OSU, Skundrich looks forward to another strong defensive showing in this weekend’s matches.
“I think that we have to respect them, and we just have to keep doing what we’re doing, keeping the team pressure high. We need to keep the intensity high and keep communicating,” said Skundrich about the defense’s mentality for fending off the offensive pressure UCLA will bring to the game.
Skundrich also attributed the defense’s success to the team’s increased ability to hold on to the ball.
“We have a ton of the possession this year, which we might not have had in previous years, so having the ball is the best defense,” he said. “You can completely eliminate the chances of the other team scoring.”
The other beneficiary of Stanford’s increased possession has been sophomore forward Foster Langsdorf. Langsdorf’s 4 goals this season are tied for most on the team with junior forward Jordan Morris.
While Morris has returned to The Farm after playing in Olympic qualifying matches with the U.S. Men’s U-23 team and will be traveling with Stanford to L.A., it remains to be seen how much time he will get following such a strenuous two weeks.
If head coach Jeremy Gunn decides to rest Morris more than usual, then Langsdorf indeed has big shoes to fill, though he has been producing on the field in Morris’ absence.
“I just need to keep scoring,” he said. “We all have a greater responsibility, especially in the attack, because [Morris] is such a vital member. When he leaves, there’s obviously a big hole, and someone needs to fill in those shoes.”
Although the team recorded 28 shot attempts in the Oct. 9 game against Washington, none were able to go through the net. Langsdorf remains optimistic about the offense’s chances this weekend, noting that “the more [shots] you take, one of them is going to go in.”
Stanford will play the Bruins on Friday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. in Los Angeles, followed by the San Diego State Aztecs on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 11:30 a.m. at the SDSU Sports Deck.
Contact Taylor Duarte at taylor3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.