By Cybele Zhang
No. 1 men’s soccer (7-0, 1-0 Pac-12) travels south to take on the University of California, Santa Barbara (6-2, 0-0 Big West) on Saturday evening. Although Stanford enters the game with its best start since 2002, the Gauchos have the potential to upset, as the Cardinal are 1-2 over the last two decades in away games versus Santa Barbara.
The two West Coast programs last met on Aug. 28, 2015 in Santa Barbara for Stanford’s season opener. UCSB finished on top, 0-1. Following that defeat, however, Stanford went undefeated in its next 15 matches en route to the first of three consecutive national championships.
The Gauchos, however, enter Saturday’s game on a win-streak of their own, winning their last five match ups and having three consecutive clean sheets. On average, Santa Barbara allows 0.4 goals per game.
The Cardinal arrive with the momentum of Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat of San Jose State at home. Stanford flaunted their scoring ability, speed and strong defensive midfield in the second half, which saw the Cardinal net three goals in a span of 13 minutes.
“[In the] second half, you saw the energy, and you saw the urgency that we really desired,” head coach Jeremy Gunn said of the victory over the Spartans. “And that energy and urgency just meant that the first 15 minutes of the second half truly win the game. It was quite clear that we were on top in that period, and we did what was important to win the game.”
Nevertheless, a player with the potential to disrupt Stanford’s generally sound defense is UC Santa Barbara’s senior midfielder Thibault Candia. The Paris native currently has four goals and two assists on the season. On Monday, Candia was named Big West Co-Offensive Player of the Week, due in large part to his impressive hat trick in UCSB’s 4-0 victory over University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Sept. 22. It was the Gauchos’ first hat trick since 2011, and Candia will certainly take aim at Stanford redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Thomas come Saturday.
But the Cardinal defense won’t go down without a fight. Stanford’s backline is one of the strongest in the conference, leading the Pac-12 in team goals against average (0.29). Stanford is one of only eight teams in the NCAA with a perfect record.
On the offensive side, almost every player is a scoring threat. The Cardinal are currently fourth in the nation in shots per game with 18.57.
“The strikers are all fighting for time, which is awesome,” Gunn said. “They can all stake a claim that they should be getting more minutes, and that’s fantastic.”
Redshirt senior defender Tanner Beason, freshman forward/midfielder Ousseni Bouda, redshirt sophomore forward Zach Ryan, freshman forward Gabe Segal and senior midfielder Derek Waldeck can be especially dangerous for Santa Barbara. Segal leads the team with four goals this season, while Waldeck has tallied the most assists (4).
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. PST at Harder Stadium.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.