The only thing harder than reaching the top is staying there. For the first time in program history, Stanford men’s soccer won a consecutive national championship today, thanks to two straight saves from senior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein in penalty kicks.
In a nail-biter against No. 2-seeded Wake Forest (19-2-4), the Cardinal (15-3-5) won their second straight national title at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium. The game was scoreless through the regulation 90 minutes as well as two intense overtimes, sending the championship game into penalty kicks.
While the pressure may have gotten to other teams, the Stanford players’ experience gave them an edge over their opponents. Last year, Stanford defeated No. 4-seeded Akron in penalty kicks 8-7 to advance to its first ever College Cup final. This year against UNC, the Cardinal went for 10 rounds of penalty kicks, ultimately beating the Tar Heels 10-9.
On Sunday afternoon, history repeated itself. Epstein, a second-team All-American, made two diving saves to give Stanford the win. Epstein did not allow a single goal throughout the tournament.
“You shouldn’t even give me much of the credit, honestly,” Epstein said before today’s win.
All season long, Stanford men’s soccer has embodied the mentality that games are won by a team as opposed to a single player, one of the pillars that has catapulted Stanford to national success.
When asked about his team’s unparalleled defensive ability, head coach Jeremy Gunn said, “Defending is a team concept, so it’s not just the back four and the keeper.”
While today proved the truth in the saying “defense wins championships,” it certainly didn’t hurt Stanford to have a little offense as well. Stanford kept the Deacons defense accountable throughout the game, outshooting its opponent 5-4 and forcing the goalkeeper to make an extra save during regulation time. The Cardinal attacked early, first with two headers on goal by All-American junior defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce and a shot by Pac-12 Player of the Year junior forward Foster Langsdorf, all within the first 20 minutes of the half.
Langsdorf finished the season with a career-high 15 goals, tied for eighth in program history. Langsdorf also leads the country in game-winning goals. Having a late-game offensive wild card like Langsdorf forces Stanford’s opponents to be responsible and alter their game plans.
Gunn credits some of Langsdorf’s success to “his unbelievable work ethic, incredible engine and incredible mindset.” In general, this work ethic allowed the Cardinal to overcome early disappointments in pre-season play and exceed everyone’s expectations with their post-season triumphs.
When it came time for penalty kicks, Stanford followed its game-winning recipe: Win the toss and shoot first. Stanford’s first three shooters — Tanner Beason, Foster Langsdorf and Adam Mosharrafa — went three for three and kept Stanford tied with the Deacons.
The drama intensified when Hilliard-Arce shot high and allowed Wake Forest to take the lead 4-3 on the next kick.
Stanford remained resilient as junior midfielder Sam Werner stepped up to take the fifth penalty kick and floated it down the middle of the net to a fooled Deacon goalkeeper. It was up to Wake Forest’s fifth shooter to make the game-winning penalty kick.
The Wake Forest kicker shot left, Epstein dove left and the National Championship moved into sudden-death penalty kick rounds at 4-4.
When Corey Baird netted his sixth penalty kick, it fell to Epstein to make the save as Wake Forest stepped up to the penalty line. Epstein stepped back in goal and dove to the right, to follow the eyes of the sixth Wake Forest shooter. The result?
Another national championship title.
Contact Julia Massaro at jmassaro ‘at’ stanford.edu.