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Women’s soccer relies on young talent to stay undefeated in conference play


No. 4 Stanford women’s soccer (12-2, 6-0 Pac-12) overcame an early deficit to beat Colorado (7-6-2, 1-4-1) 2-1 on Friday night.

Stanford alumna Kelley O’Hara ‘10, fresh off a World Cup victory with the U.S. Women’s National Team, was in attendance as the Cardinal won their sixth straight conference game.

O’Hara and the rest of the crowd at Cagan Stadium witnessed an uncharacteristically sloppy beginning of the game for the Cardinal. The Buffaloes started the game aggressively, making up for their lack of pace with physical, intelligent defending.

“They were well organized and strong defensively,” Stanford head coach Paul Ratcliffe noted about the struggling Buffaloes. “We need to be more aggressive and find faster combinations and take people on 1 v. 1.”

Colorado’s aggressive pressing helped the Buffs keep the ball longer than most of the Cardinal’s previous opponents. The Buffs quickly took advantage of this added possession, scoring in the sixth minute off a curling free kick. Junior defender Maddie Bauer tried to clear, but instead headed the ball past goalkeeper Jane Campbell for an own goal. The goal marked the first time since Oct. 4 that Stanford had trailed in a game.

The Cardinal’s rare deficit lasted all of six minutes. Stanford responded to the stingy Colorado midfielders by pushing the ball up the sides, where the Cardinal’s quickness was too much for the Buffaloes’ defenders.

In the 12th minute, the Cardinal tied the game on a goal that was equal parts quality, effort and awareness. Senior defender Laura Liedle sent in a dangerous cross from the right side, but it looked like Buffaloes goalkeeper Scout Watson would easily cover it. Forward Tegan McGrady had other plans. The freshman ran past the Buffs’ back line and headed the ball into the net while colliding with Watson.

McGrady’s goal was the exclamation point on her red-hot play during the Pac-12 season. In each of her two previous games, McGrady assisted on goals with precise crosses from the left side. While her assists showcased her first-class passing, her goal on Friday was all down to relentless effort.

“Once I saw that ball was about to be crossed, I knew I had to get in there,” McGrady said of her determined run. “I knew I had to do what my teammates had done for me on my crosses.”

McGrady’s tying goal helped open the floodgates for the Cardinal. Having figured out how to cope with the Colorado defense, the Cardinal were able to settle into their usual style of play, controlling the ball and opening up space with their passing. Just seven minutes after tying the game, the Cardinal took the lead by playing off an elegant run by freshman forward Michelle Xiao.

After receiving the ball inside the penalty area, Xiao dribbled past several Colorado defenders in a sprint to the touchline, where she passed the ball to the far post. The ball skipped through the Colorado defense, where sophomore Mariah Lee, who came in as a sub, one-touched it into the net to give the Cardinal the lead for good.

“We were trying to wear them down on the wings, and we have a lot of good players that can rotate in,” Ratcliffe said after the match.

After a string of games in which the Cardinal offense relied on the brilliant play of All-American hopefuls Andi Sullivan and Haley Rosen, Friday’s game showcased the offense’s versatility and its increased emphasis on finishing.

“Early in the season, we weren’t doing a great job finishing,” McGrady added. “We know we have really good players who can get the ball up, and we need to do a good job supporting them.“

Throughout their mostly successful season, the Cardinal’s suspect finishing in front of goal has sometimes overshadowed their dominant play. Friday’s game is another positive sign that Ratcliffe and the Cardinal can fully resolve their goal-scoring woes by the time the postseason starts.

Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’