By Cybele Zhang
Tonight No. 9 Stanford men’s soccer (12-3-5, 7-2-1 Pac-12) will take on No. 14 University of Akron (13-6-2, 1-2-1 Mid-American Conference) in the quarterfinal of the NCAA Division I Championship. This will be the first quarterfinal home game for the Cardinal since 2002.
The two teams have not met since last season’s NCAA semifinal, in which Stanford decisively beat the Zips 2-0, while on the way to a third consecutive national championship. Prior to that, the teams faced off during the 2015 semifinal. In that game, the first 110 minutes were scoreless, pushing the match into penalties – which Stanford narrowly won 8-7.
Today, the Cardinal hope to notch another post season win over Akron, and head coach Jeremy Gunn sees home field advantage as key to the upcoming match.
“It’s no question in any sport, at any level, the home team has a bit of an advantage,” Gunn said following Stanford’s match against Saint Mary’s. “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.”
Although the Cardinal have not played Akron during the regular season the teams have had two common opponents: University of Denver (15-4-2, 4-0-1 Summit League) and University of Washington (12-7-1, 6-4-0 Pac-12). Stanford defeated Denver on Oct. 26 of this season 1-0, while the Zips tied with the Pioneers on Aug. 11 in an exhibition game. Additionally, the Cardinal have beaten the Huskies twice – 3-2 in double overtime and 3-1 on Oct. 14 and Oct. 21, respectively. Akron, however, fell to Washington 0-2 on Sep. 9.
Stanford comes into this quarterfinal game following a hard fought victory versus No. 8 Saint Mary’s (18-0-2, 6-0-1 West Coast Conference) in the NCAA Tournament Third Round. Although the Gaels were seeded higher, the Cardinal pulled off the upset in Moraga. The game itself was certainly long and physically draining for the players, but they have had five days to recover in preparation for today’s match. Prior to the Saint Mary’s match, Stanford also defeated No. 23 University of California, Irvine (11-6-4, 5-1-1 Big West) in the tournament’s second round.
The Zips, too, had an exciting third round game, as they dealt an upset to No. 1 Wake Forest (18-3-0, 7-1-0 ACC) – the formerly undefeated top ranked team in the nation. In that game, Akron’s forward Marcel Zajac scored in the 46th minute, and the Demon Deacons were unable to successfully counter. It was Zajac’s eighth goal of the year. On the way to the quarterfinal, Akron also defeated Rider (10-10-1, 6-4-0 Eastern College) and No. 19 Syracuse (7-7-4, 1-4-3 ACC).
In addition to Zajac, players to watch for the Zips include forward David Egbo, who leads the team with 12 goals on the season, and 6’6” goalkeeper Ben Lundt, who has recorded seven clean sheets this year and 27 in his career. All three players are international; Egbo hails from Enugu, Nigeria, Lundt from Berlin, Germany, and Zajac from Mississauga, Ontario.
The Cardinal, however, showcase talent of their own, including junior captain and center back Tanner Beason – who on Tuesday was announced as one of 15 semifinalists for the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy. The award is presented annually in January and is the highest individual intercollegiate award administered by United Soccer Coaches. NCAA Division I coaches will vote for finalists in mid-December.
The first Cardinal men’s player to win the award was Jordan Morris in 2015. He subsequently was named a two-time All-American and 2016 Major League Soccer Rookie.
Freshman goalkeeper Andrew Thomas will also play a large role in tonight’s game. He has recorded 11 clean sheets this season and has extended Stanford’s postseason shutout streak to 14 matches and 1,414 minutes, 20 seconds. Thomas concedes an average of 0.51 goals per game.
On the offense, freshman forward Zach Ryan leads the Cardinal with nine goals on the season. Senior midfielder/forward Amir Bashti and Beason have each accumulated seven goals.
Although Stanford has won the NCAA championship for the past three years, the team’s record this season has not been as dominant. In 2017 the Cardinal were crowned champions with a 19-2-2 record, in 2016 the team had a 15-3-5 record and in 2015 had a 18-2-3 record.
If the Cardinal are able to pull of the four-peat, seniors Bashti, Adam Mosharrafa, Collin Liberty and Eduardo Palacios Fabre and redshirt juniors Beason and Charlie Furrer will have won a championship all of their years at Stanford.
Kickoff is at 6 p.m. PST at Stanford’s Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.