Stanford men’s soccer (12-3-4 7-2-1 Pac-12) avenged its last postseason defeat with a resounding 2-0 victory over UC Irvine (11-6-4, 5-1-1 Big West) on a chilly Sunday night. The two sides last met in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, when the Anteaters scored in overtime to beat the Cardinal 1-0, in what is also Stanford’s most recent postseason loss.
“You want to deliver the knockout punch straight away, but if you can’t, keep landing the body blows,” said head coach Jeremy Gunn. “Tonight was a good example.”
The Stanford defense absorbed the jabs and hooks of the Irvine attack on the way to the 11th shutout of the season, and Stanford’s 13th straight shutout in the postseason. That effort was led by the decorated center backs, seniors Adam Mosharrafa and Tanner Beason. Moshafarra was named the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year and the Beason was recognized as both the Pac-12 Defender of the Year and player of the year, the first in the conference to win both honors in the same season.
The Anteaters struck fast. In the fourth minute, a mistake in build up play allowed Lawrence Yamaguchi to get in one-on-one with freshman goalkeeper Andrew Thomas, and his shot from point-blank range forced a brilliant save. “Andrew made a big save there, that was really important and kept it tied at that point,” said his coach after the game.
Gunn, however, was quick to remind teammates, “We had the first great chance.” Sophomore forward Charlie Wehan had the first shot of the game in the second minute, but his screamer soared over the crossbar.
This style of play continued throughout the opening minutes of the game before Stanford settled in and began to dominate possession. “It went back and forth at the beginning of the first half, but then in the second part of the first half we were clearly on top with the ball,” said Gunn.
A scoreless draw at the half, the two sides were only separated by a single shot in Stanford’s favor. “We knew it was going to be a good game from the start,” said Irvine defender Jose Soto. “They’re three-time defending champs and they have home field advantage.”
Freshman forward Will Richmond created the first opportunity in the second half, sending a dipping shot toward the back post with his left foot that was countered by an acrobatic save from Irvine keeper Greg Patenaude. His captain, Beason, was impressed by his performance. “He’s done very well coming in, making an impact,” he said. “He’s happy to do it with both feet. He’s got speed and he can beat you either way.”
Thomas had his own shutout preserving save in the 70th minute, when he dove to his left with outstretched arms to thwart a Christian Gutierrez attempt. “We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Beason. “Irvine is a good team, and the games this time of year are tough and tight. It was just about bringing energy and having the right attitude to know it wasn’t going to be easy, and it was going to take awhile.”
When it finally arrived, it was because Beason had pinned them to the ropes. Richmond sent in a cross from the corner that was on its way to the center back on the fart post. Beason, however, was dragged down by an Irvine defender, and Stanford was awarded a penalty kick. A perfect three of three from the spot so far this season, the captain buried the opportunity in the back of the net for his 7th goal of the year to put the Cardinal on top.
A minute later, it looked as if the Anteaters would respond. “I saw the ball miss everyone,” said Soto. “I didn’t have the best angle, but I put my head on it just well enough to put it on frame.” The header caromed off the crossbar, and with no Anteaters present to capitalize, Stanford defenders cleared their lines.
Ten minutes later, in the 83rd minute, freshman Zach Ryan would deliver the final blow. Junior midfielder Derek Waldeck received a Will Richmond pass in the center of the pitch and with one touch sent the ball on to the feet of Ryan. Turning with his right foot and cutting past a defender to put the ball on his left, Ryan found side netting.
“A fantastic finish, wasn’t it?” asked Gunn, rhetorically. “He absolutely punctuated the game.” With the goal, Stanford’s fate was practically sealed. The team has never lost when scoring twice under Gunn.
While many teams focus on playing “beautiful” soccer, Gunn is confident in the efficacy of his approach, and it is difficult to argue with his results. “Everybody philosophizes about how the game should be played and yet we’re gearing for knockout soccer,” said Gunn. “And knockout soccer is different than week-in, week-out soccer.”
Stanford made certain the Anteaters were knocked out, as the two goal shutout cut Irvine’s season short. “I’m going to miss it,” said Soto after his final college game. “It hurts.”
“It’s a great playoff game where two sets of players are just working tremendously hard,” said Gunn. “There’s the odd mistake, here and there, that’s going to happen in these games, and [the winner] is whoever keeps their composure, keeps their nerve and keeps asking the questions.” On Sunday, Stanford was the winner.
The Cardinal return to action next Sunday in Moraga against a Saint Mary’s College of California (18-0-1, 6-0-1 West Coast) side that has won all 11 of its home games. The teams met in Cagan Stadium during the preseason, when Beason’s late penalty kick conversion was the difference maker in a 2-1 Stanford win.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.