By Cate Camara
Following three NCAA championship-winning seasons, the Stanford men’s soccer team faced the challenge of acquiring another title. Having graduated seven starters who led the team to three national championships, four Pac-12 Titles, a 65-10-13 overall record and a 30-3-7 Pac-12 conference record across four years, the legacy of Stanford men’s soccer was left to a relatively young team, composed of only three returning starters.
The team demonstrated great promise entering Pac-12 play with a 3-1-3 record. The Cardinal cracked into their conference opener against San Diego State with a decisive 3-0 shutout victory. Sophomore midfielder Logan Panchot, redshirt freshman forward Zach Ryan and senior forward Amir Bashti were responsible for three consecutive strikes early in the second half. Stanford went on to defeat UCLA by the same margin three days later.
It was in the 52nd minute against the Bruins when Bashti dribbled through four defenders and flipped the ball to redshirt junior defender Tanner Beason, who took a long cross-shot at the goal. The ball bounced off the left post and landed perfectly at the feet of sophomore forward Charlie Wehan, who took the initiative to sweep the ball in the back net for the first score of the game. Bashti then launched a shot a few possessions later for the second goal, before sophomore forward Jack O’Brien converted the third score off of a series of headers.
The first six goals of the season came from open play. Near the end of September, the Cardinal men were far younger and much less experienced than they were at that time a year ago, yet they were still able to bring home wins.
“We want to keep getting better all the time,” said head coach Jeremy Gunn. “That’s all we’re looking for. Every time we’re out on the pitch, we’re gaining valuable experience.”
In the third conference game against Cal, Beason racked in two goals for the Cardinal. Ryan, set up by Wehan, crushed an exquisite strike, and Bashti scored his fifth goal in the last five games, giving Stanford the lead with a final box score of 4-2.
On Oct. 11, the Cardinal took its first loss on the road against Oregon State 1-0, as the Beavers made their first goal against Stanford since 2014. However, the Stanford team was quick to resume their winning ways, defeating Washington on their northwest tour 3-2. Sophomore midfielder Arda Bulut scored in the second overtime, following Ryan’s goal in the first minute and Beason’s penalty shot in the 78th. It was because of Bulut’s shot that Stanford has not conceded back-to-back losses since 2012, when Gunn entered the program.
In a non-conference game against Denver on Oct. 26, it was 41 seconds into the second overtime when Ryan, with just one perfect touch below the crossbar, placed the ball inside the goal earning Stanford the win due to the golden goal rule.
The Cardinal collected their tenth win of the season at an away game against San Diego State on Nov. 1. Goals were made in the second half by Wehan’s shot on goal and Beason’s penalty kick. This game was crucial for Stanford’s placement in the Pac-12 standings because it left the Cardinal (10-2-4, 6-1-1) tied with Oregon State (10-4-3, 6-1-1) for the conference title, with Stanford one game ahead of the Beavers.
Up to this point, Bashti (seven goals), Ryan (seven goals) and Beason (five goals) accounted for almost three-quarters of Stanford’s 26 total goals. With this game, Stanford outscored its opponents 8-5 in the first half and 19-5 back half of matches.
“Some of our teams have really dominated in first halves and maybe this team is just a little more measured,” Gunn remarked.
The Cardinal suffered its second conference loss in the finale of the season when Berkeley scored in the 85th minute at Cagan Stadium. The upset seemed all the more unlikely considering how consistent the Cardinal had played all season.
A win or draw against the Bears would have secured the Pac-12 title for the Cardinal outright. But its fate lied in the hands of the Washington Huskies, who would take on the Pac-12’s second-place team, Oregon State. If the Beavers won, they would have tied the Cardinal for the title. Washington ended up defeating Oregon, leaving the Cardinal the sole winner of the title.
“It’s an amazing feat what this group has done, something that’s unprecedented,” Gunn said. “In that respect, it’s an awesome achievement. But on the night, we didn’t play like we can.”
The match closed the home regular-season careers of seniors Bashti, Collin Liberty, Adam Mosharrafa and Eduardo Palacios Fabre.
The Stanford offense was ranked first in the conference largely due to players such as Bashti and Ryan, who accumulated seven and eight goals on the season, respectively. Bashti was Pac-12 Player of the Week twice this season.
The Cardinal defense was impermeable. Beason was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second time in the season and made six goals in the last eight games. The Cardinal averaged 2.33 goals per game in conference, while freshman goalkeeper Andrew Thomas recorded 10 shootouts this season and led the conference in saves (61) and save percentage (0.859).
Stanford opened the 2018 NCAA tournament the same way it’s played the past three – with a 2-0 shutout victory. The two goals were made in the second half by Beason’s net-meeting penalty kick and Ryan’s 83rd minute solidifying strike.
“Everybody philosophizes about how the game should be played, and yet, we’re gearing for knockout soccer,” Gunn said, “And knockout soccer is different than week-in, week-out soccer.”
Seeking entrance to the NCAA quarterfinals, the Cardinal faced Saint Mary’s on the road. After two scoreless halves and two scoreless overtimes, Stanford clutched a 4-2 penalty shootout victory to advance past the third round.
The match could be summarized in just two words: Andrew Thomas. The redshirt freshman goalkeeper made a career-high 11 saves. Thomas lowered his goals against average to 0.51 and extended Stanford’s postseason shutout streak to 14 matches and 1,414 minutes, 20 seconds.
“Andrew kept us in the game today with some amazing saves,” Gunn said. “At both ends, it wasn’t through lack of opportunities. It was incredible goalkeeping that kept it at 0-0.”
The game at Saint Mary’s saw a flurry of shots from both sides. Bashti had the best chance for the Cardinal with a shot that was devastatingly tipped onto the crossbar by the Gaels keeper, who had played on teams with Bashti growing up.
The win against the Gaels brought the NCAA quarterfinal to Cagan Stadium for the first time since 2002. However, the No. 7 Cardinal (12-4-5, Pac-12 7-2-1) suffered a hard-fought loss to No. 16 Akron Zips (14-6-2, 1-2-1) to conclude the season.
Despite giving up two goals in the first half, the Stanford team displayed an amazing second-half comeback. Stanford built a solid and collective attack. A converted penalty kick from Beason cut Akron’s lead to one in the 56th minute.
In the 67th minute, Ryan scored the astonishing equalizer and his team-leading tenth goal as Cagan Stadium erupted.
In the 80th minute, Akron connected with the ball for a headshot that crushingly put the Zips up 3-2 and would soon become the decisive score. The Cardinal was one step short of entering the College Cup to fight for a fourth-consecutive national championship, a feat only accomplished by Virginia (1991-94).
Nevertheless, the team demonstrated a valiant effort.
“You can’t argue for a more exciting game,” Gunn said. “It had everything you needed. We just fell short to a very good team on the night. I thought our boys fought incredibly, and when we got to 2-2 we looked good. Absolute credit to Akron, though. They settled the game down again and the goal they scored was fantastic.”
The loss unfortunately snapped Stanford’s 17-match postseason unbeaten streak. It was the team’s first tournament defeat in 1,469 days, since losing in the second round to UC Irvine 1-0 on Nov. 23, 2014.
“We had an incredible run this season, and I am so proud of all the ambassadors of the game we had go through the program,” Gunn said. “We enjoyed incredible success with many groups, some incredible student athletes. The end of this night is nothing I can complain about, nor can I complain about our players.”
Nevertheless, Stanford raked in a surplus of awards, which speaks to the dominance of the program. Beason was named Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year — the first in the conference to win both honors in the same season. He also was a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist as well as a First-Team All-American along with Bashti and Thomas. Bashti was also a First Team Scholar All-American selection. Mosharrafa was named the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Departing from Stanford with the record number of matches played at 88 games in his four seasons, Bashti was selected in the second round of the MLS draft by reigning champions, Atlanta United.
Most recently, Thomas was called up by U.S. Soccer for a combined preparation camp with players from the senior and U-23 Men’s National Teams from May 26 to June 2 in Annapolis, Maryland.
The redshirt freshman had a remarkable first season in goal for the Cardinal, filling the place of legend Nico Corti. Thomas was ranked ninth in the nation with a conference-leading 0.626 goals against average, third in the country in save percentage (.854), sixth in solo shutouts (11) and 13th in total saves (82).
Stanford remains the nation’s most successful collegiate men’s soccer program in recent years with three of the last four NCAA titles, five consecutive Pac-12 championships and a 77-14-18 (.789) overall record since 2014. The Cardinal returns nine starters to next year’s roster.
Contact Cate Camara at ccamara2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.