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Men’s and women’s soccer claim weekend victories at home

The Cardinal men take out the UCLA Bruins while the women down the No. 2 USC Trojans

Freshman forward Sophia Smith (above) scored her fifth goal of the season in extra time, giving the Cardinal the win and knocking off No. 2 USC. (ERIN CHANG/isiphotos.com)

It’s no exaggeration to say that Stanford soccer has been absolutely unstoppable, and this past weekend was no exception, as both teams played a home match in Cagan Stadium. The women’s team (10-0-1, 3-0-0 Pac-12) is undefeated this season, and is currently ranked first in the nation. They extended a 33-game winning streak with a 1-0 extra time victory against No. 2 ranked USC on Sunday (9-1-1, 2-1-0). The men’s team (5-1-3, 2-0-0), while not ranked at the moment, dominated UCLA (5-4-0, 1-1-0) right after the conclusion of the women’s match, blasting the Bruins 3-0 in regulation.

As the defending men’s and women’s soccer NCAA champions, targets are drawn on the backs of the Stanford players. Every team they play is aiming to knock the crown off their heads, bring them back down to earth and stop their reign. In the face of that challenge, Stanford soccer does not back down. The players have showcased some of their best soccer this year, and they look every bit the part to repeat as national champions.

The women’s team, which hasn’t lost a game outright since the middle of last season, faced its toughest opponent since the NCAA finals on Sunday, squaring off with an undefeated Trojan squad that could taste the No. 1 ranking. The atmosphere was electric, with a sold out crowd to perform in front of. Head coach Paul Ratcliffe thought the fans helped out the Cardinal players.

“The fans really inspired us to this victory,” Ratcliffe said. “It was an electric atmosphere and they definitely powered us forward when we needed it.” A variety of Stanford sporting events have been packed with fans recently, with all communities stepping up in their support of the Cardinal. The athletes can feel the extra energy.

The first half was relatively quiet from both sides, as neither team ever got in a great position to take shots, let alone score. The Cardinal were held to zero shots on target in a half for the first time this season. And, except for a 12th minute shot that was saved by senior goalkeeper Alison Jahansouz, USC couldn’t get anything going either.

Jahansouz (8-0-1) had three total saves on the night, notching her fourth shutout of the season, and providing space for the Cardinal to stay in the game throughout regulation.

In the second half, Stanford turned up the pressure to 11, executing 15 shots on goal. By all means, this game should have been over in regulation, but exceptional saves by USC on two chances from star sophomore forward Catarina Macario kept the game scoreless.

In the final minute of regulation, Stanford had two more attempts — made by freshman midfielder Naomi Girma and senior defender Alana Cook — that should have ended the game, were it not for fantastic USC defensive plays.

Extra time commenced, and after a back and forth, sophomore forward Madison Haley received the ball in the seventh minute. Haley, handling the ball well, forced her defender to turn and set up the game-winning goal. Haley flipped it to freshman forward Sophia Smith, who inched the ball past the USC goalkeeper with fantastic touch, ending the game for the Cardinal.

This was Smith’s fifth goal of the season, and her second in the past two games. On Thursday, Smith put away the game against UCLA with Stanford’s third goal of the night. Talk about a hot start for the freshman phenom.

This was Stanford’s fourth overtime victory of the season. The team has only tied once this year, and has sole control of the Pac-12 with this win over USC.

Pac-12 dominance is something the men’s soccer team knows a lot about, having won the Pac-12 division for four consecutive years. This year, they are aiming for a fifth, and Sunday’s win over UCLA is a great way to continue that campaign.

The men’s match against UCLA began the same way as the women’s match against USC. The Cardinal made attempts on goal in the first half, but things weren’t falling their way in terms of possession, and the two sides went back and forth without much development.

Then the team came back after halftime, and a switch was flipped. In the 52nd minute, senior midfielder Amir Bashti dribbled the ball through four defenders in the corner and flipped the ball to junior Tanner Beason, who took a long cross shot at the goal. It bounced off the left post and landed perfectly at the feet of sophomore forward Charlie Wehan, who took the initiative to knock the ball in nearly effortlessly to put the Cardinal up 1-0.

After that goal, the game was over.

“Goals change games,” head coach Jeremy Gunn said after the game. “We scored a great one to open the game up and from then on we were capable of going from strength to strength. We kept growing in stature throughout against a very good team with some great weapons and thoroughly deserved the result. That growth is the most impressive part about the victory.”

Stanford grew to the tune of two more goals, one in the 67th minute, and once again in the 80th minute. For the second goal, Bashti, dashing through the Bruin’s line, was fed a beautiful ball from freshman forward Zach Ryan. Bashti, without hesitation, launched a beautiful shot, ricocheting off the post and into the goal.

The final goal came from sophomore forward Jack O’Brien, who finished off a series of headers started by sophomore forward Arda Bulut, who was credited for the assist. O’Brien’s header flew just under the crossbar, good for his first career goal.

The men’s team is far younger and much less experienced than they were at this time last year, having graduated seven players. Coach Gunn is just concerned about growing.

“We want to keep getting better all the time. That’s all we’re looking for. Every time we’re out on the pitch, we’re gaining valuable experience,” Gunn said. “Every time we’re playing we’re learning just a little bit more about ourselves. These are new steps for many of the players — being the man in the middle and scoring winners. That’s where we’re growing from game to game. We’re going to hit pitfalls and we are going to have difficulties. It’s never going to be a perfect path, but I’m truly excited with how the group continues to move forward and continues to show more and more that they are a great team.”

They’ll look to grow more this week when they take on Cal in Berkeley on Oct. 7, striving for continued Pac-12 dominance. The women head to Oregon on Thursday to play against Oregon, before squaring off against Oregon State on Sunday.

 

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu

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