What a way to go out.
Behind two goals from Jordan Morris and a staunch defensive effort, Stanford men’s soccer (18-2-3) won its first national championship with a 4-0 rout over Clemson (17-3-4) Sunday afternoon at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
The victory marked Stanford’s 108th NCAA Championship and was its 129th national title, adding a year to the school’s now-40-year streak of winning at least one NCAA championship each year. It was also the first time a men’s team has won a title for The Farm since 2011 and the first time a men’s fall team has since 2003.
But to the team, the title was more the result of what it set out to do at the beginning of the year — the result of years of program-building and individual work, all leading to exactly where it had every right to be: hoisting the NCAA championship trophy.
The Cardinal led for all but the first 86 seconds of the game, gaining the lead for good with the first of Morris’ brace of goals. The play started with a fast break from sophomore Corey Baird, who then sent a cross towards Eric Verso at the top of the box. The fifth-year senior tapped it to Morris, who shot it in past the Clemson’s keeper’s near side.
After struggling to convert Friday in the semifinal match, Morris stepped up when it mattered most, scoring his 12th (and later 13th) goal in his last 14 games.
“Whenever we go out, we want to score first,” Morris said. “Scoring early helps to not only give me confidence, but the rest of the team as well. It was good to get one early.”
After Morris’ early goal, the rest of the half was mostly a Clemson show. Using their skilled passing, the Tigers maintained most of the possession and got off 6 shots, and though none of them were on goal, Cardinal keeper Andrew Epstein remained fairly active. By the end of the afternoon, Stanford would only give up one shot on goal.
Though Clemson had some chances in the second half to get on the board, the Cardinal were better at maintaining possession and creating possession than they were in the first half.
“We adjusted well at halftime and said, ‘Guys, we can’t just sit here defending because we are going to be holding on clock watching. We have to go at them and be assertive the rest of the game,’” Gunn said. “And that’s what we ended up doing.”
“They got their chances; they’re a quality team, so you expect that, but we did a good job of holding them back,” said defender Brandon Vincent. “We kept going after it, keeping up the intensity and finishing it out strong.”
“It’s a testament to the back line and the keepers. The front six as well,” he added. “Everyone doing their job defensively. The front six make it tough on them to get through in the first place, and then when they do, we are there to pick up the scraps and make sure they don’t get a look on goal. If they do, Andy [Epstein] is there to come up big with the save.”
For the third time in its five tournament games, Stanford’s second half featured its most productive offensive showings: Morris’ second goal of the night came quickly — not even six minutes — after play resumed in the second half, and from there the entire game opened up for the Cardinal. Receiving a feed from Baird, Morris drew two defenders on him. The Clemson keeper stepped out to try to contest the shot, but the junior, off-balanced, was able to finesse the ball into the far post.
Midway through the second half, Morris got fouled inside the box, leading to Stanford’s third goal off a penalty kick from Vincent. Three minutes later, Verso sent a ball past his defender and the diving Tigers keeper to score Stanford’s fourth and final goal.
Having scored his second goal of the season, Verso proceeded to rip off his jersey — under which he was wearing a sports bra to carry the Cardinal’s assortment of heart-rate monitors and mileage trackers — and slid on his knees toward the Stanford sideline. The move paralleled Brandi Chastain’s famous celebratory action from the 1996 World Cup Final.
— Stanford Athletics (@GoStanford) December 14, 2015
“Probably not the best look with the sports bra underneath, but I was just so excited in the moment,” Verso said. “I had only one goal on the year. I was just so happy that I had finally scored, especially in the final. I wasn’t thinking at that point, just really excited.”
Despite the pressure of it being the tournament’s final matchup, Sunday’s match was by far Stanford’s most dominant performance in the tournament, and indeed the season.
In the Second Round, and its first game, of the NCAAs, Stanford went down 1-0 in the 28th minute, but for the rest of the tournament, that would be the only point when the team trailed. Stanford came back to score three goals against Santa Clara and beat Ohio State in the next round by the same 3-1 margin, thanks to the first of Morris’ two braces of the tournament.
Over its next three games, Stanford would proceed to take down the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 2 seeds by a 6-1 margin: Wake Forest in overtime off a game-winner from Foster Langsdorf, the win sending the program to its first College Cup since 2002; Akron in a scoreless tie that ended with 10 rounds of dramatic penalty kicks that, at one point, Stanford was inches away from losing; and then Sunday, when Morris scored in the first 87 seconds, and the team never looked back.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gunn said. “Going into the tournament, the thing that I felt good about was the great balance we have. We are a great attacking team; we showed that today; and we’ve shown it all season. We are also tremendous at the back, so to win at any sport, you’ve got to be scoring and stopping scoring. You have to have that balance, and I think that was really the key for us.”
Stanford also scored all the goals of the College Cup, as both semifinal games ended in scoreless ties before going into penalty kicks, and did not let in a goal in all 200 minutes of game time it played in this weekend. Vincent was named the tournament’s defensive MVP, while Morris was named the offensive MVP.
While Vincent and fellow seniors Ty Thompson, Slater Meehan, Eric Verso and Adrian Alabi have definitely played their last games as Stanford Cardinal, time will tell whether the same will hold true for USMNT player Jordan Morris. With many offers from his hometown Seattle Sounders, he has not announced whether he will leave The Farm to pursue his professional career.
But on Sunday, none of that mattered. In one of the most emphatic College Cup Final victories in history, the Cardinal accomplished what they’ve had their eyes on all season — perhaps all their lives — and were able to pull off what the program never could do before in its 102 years of existence: They had become national champions.
“It couldn’t have gone any better,” Gunn said.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.