By Arman Kassam
No. 6 Stanford men’s soccer (11-3-4, 7-2-1 Pac-12) lost 0-1 in their regular season-finale match against Berkeley (7-9-2, 3-7-0 Pac-12). The upset seemed all the more unlikely considering how solidly the Cardinal have performed this season, and it was a goal in the 84th minute that shattered expectations. As Cal swarmed the field after the 90 minutes were up, a gloom passed over the Stanford crowd.
A win or draw would have secured the Pac-12 conference title for the Cardinal outright. Their placement in the division now lies in the hands of the Washington Huskies, who take on the Pac-12’s second place team, Oregon State, today. If the Beavers win outright, they tie the Cardinal for the title. If the Beavers tie or lose, the Cardinal claim the crown.
Oregon State’s victory over the Cardinal back in October marked the first conference loss for Stanford this season, and the tie rematch against the Beavers was a bittersweet ending for a vengeful Stanford. Heading into yesterday’s game against Cal, the Cardinal were coming off of a four-game winning streak and in the past four games, the team had only let in one goal.
This season, Cal’s record was sullied by a 6-game losing streak that began with a 2-4 loss to the Cardinal and was only recently broken by a 2-0 victory over San Diego State (6-10-1, 1-8-0 Pac-12). Beyond this season, Stanford is 32-22-9 all-time against Cal, and the Cardinal managed to not lose against the Bay rival in their last 10 meetings. Stanford’s past success has been so extensive that they had not lost a home game against Cal since 2010, two years before current Head Coach Jeremy Gunn took over at the helm.
The first half of the match was endless back-and-forth and each team stuck to their usual play styles. The Golden Bears played flowery and kept possession while Stanford played direct and forced through balls. It resulted in opportunities for both sides, but nothing came out of the offensive attempts. Junior defender Tanner Beason stirred shouts in the crowd after making a strike down the center of the Cal net, but the ball was saved at the last moment. Beason, who has served as co-captain this year, was recently honored as Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second time this season.
The second half did not begin any differently. That was, until, Stanford’s freshman goalkeeper Andrew Thomas made a series of gasp-inducing saves. It all started in the 52nd minute when Cal’s Taylor Davila made a header off of a corner kick that was promptly stopped. Stanford started to do a better job possessing, passing and making plays by the 70th minute, and the team kept inching towards the goal until senior midfielder/forward Amir Bashti, the leading goal-scorer on the team, made a shot that was blocked by the Golden Bears. Stanford clearly switched up their approach during the second half, opting for a more methodical style that gave them enough chances to keep the Golden Bears on their toes.
In the 84th minute, Cal’s Sam Ebstein sprinted towards goal and made a shot, but Andrew Thomas sprang up to smack the ball over the crossbar. Stanford’s defense was ostensibly impervious. Then, out of nowhere, Cal came back with a goal only moments later, headed in by JJ Foe Nuphaus and assisted by Sam Junqua. With a triplet of fouls, two yellow cards and only six minutes on the clock, Stanford’s season finale was decided.
Still, the Cardinal ended their season as the top team in the conference and a formidable force compared to any team in the country.
“It’s an amazing feat what this group has done,” Head Coach Jeremy Gunn commented on the season, adding that, “hopefully a good lesson can be learned [from this game] that we need to be all guns blazing and nothing else is going to be good enough.”
The legacy of a dynasty is on the line as Stanford heads into the Pac-12 postseason. With national titles for the past three years (and the second three-year championship run in NCAA history), this squad has big, big shoes to fill. The fate of this year’s team hung in the balance after Stanford lost many of its core players, but considering the incredible talent and world-class coaching of this team, the Cardinal have a great shot at postseason success.
“We have to be committed to the incredible soccer that we usually play,” Coach Gunn remarked.
The postseason schedule will be announced soon.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu.