Sunday’s tournament match for Stanford men’s soccer can be summarized in just two words: ANDREW THOMAS. The redshirt senior goalkeeper denied one Saint Mary’s (18-0-2, 6-0-1 WCC) penalty kick and watched another clang off the crossbar as the No. 9-seeded Stanford (12-3-5, 7-2-1 Pac 12) advanced 4-2 on penalties over the eighth seed in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
As the lower seed, Stanford was forced to travel to Moraga and play in front of the Gaels fans. “I do feel that getting the home field advantage was a big help for them,” said head coach Jeremy Gunn. “They had a tremendous crowd behind them and a little more comfort. I’m proud of how we continued to work and compete in a very tough game against a great team.”
After 110 minutes of hard-fought soccer, neither team had found the back of the net. The Gaels, however, outshot the Cardinal 21 to eight and will conclude their season with the unusual distinction of being the sole remaining unbeaten team in the nation. Penalty shootouts are officially registered as ties. “It has to be said that they definitely had the better chances in the game,” said Gunn. “Coach Cooper and Saint Mary’s have had a fantastic season, and to go unbeaten is incredibly impressive.”
The two teams met for exhibition play in August for another game that came down to a penalty kick. Senior defender Tanner Beason’s winner from the spot came in regulation play as the Cardinal won 2-1.
On Sunday, neither team could put one away. Thomas saved all 11 of the Gaels barrage of shots on goal amid a storm of 21 total shots for his eleventh of the season. Remi Prieur made the two saves required of him by the Stanford attack.
“Andrew kept us in the game today with some amazing saves,” said Gunn. “Amir Bashti had the best chance of the first half that was brutally tipped onto the crossbar by their keeper, but at both ends it wasn’t through lack of opportunities. It was incredible goalkeeping that kept it at 0-0.”
The game opened up in the second half with a flurry of shots from both sides. Stanford took six of its eight shots for the game while the Gaels managed 10. Saint Mary’s carried that momentum into the overtime periods, outshooting the Cardinal seven to one in the final 20 minutes. That offensive surge by the Gaels was countered by a Cardinal defense that has not conceded a goal in 14 consecutive postseason matches.
Nevertheless, when the time came, Stanford stepped up to the challenge. Redshirt senior defender Adam Mosharrafa, the Pac-12 scholar-athlete of the year, buried his opportunity. Thomas tipped Filippo Zattarin off the post to give the Cardinal control of their destiny. Sophomore forward Arda Bulut and Anders Engebretsen, who alone tested Thomas with five shots and three on goal during regulation, traded successful conversions. Beason and Valentin Spooner did the same. Junior midfielder Derek Waldeck was money, and the Gaels were quickly in a dire situation. Jakub Shavlik, who took three shots during regulation with none on frame, was blocked by the woodwork on the final penalty kick. Soon after, Thomas was stormed by an ecstatic, victorious, quarterfinal-bound team.
“We prepare for every eventuality,” said Gunn. “We want to knock a team out in the first half, and then we want to knock them out in second and then overtime. But if we’re both still standing, we’ve put in the homework to be ready for that moment as well.”
Stanford will return home to the Farm to host its first quarterfinal since 2002 against Akron (13-6-2, 1-2-1 MAC) after its upset victory over No. 1-seeded Wake Forest. The Cardinal beat Akron in the semifinals last season 2-0 and prevailed in penalties, 8-7, in a 2015 semifinal over the Zips.
“It’s no question in any sport, at any level: The home team has a bit of an advantage,” said Gunn. “It’s wonderful we’ve earned the right to be hosting the next round, and hopefully that can spur us on to put in a great performance.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.