By Jeremy Rubin
“Prepare to play our best soccer,” men’s soccer head coach Jeremy Gunn warned his team prior to Sunday’s upset of No. 1 Washington (14-3, 7-2 Pac-12). Despite the monumental 1-0 victory, Gunn wasn’t ready to celebrate just yet.
For No. 4 Stanford (13-1-3, 6-1-2 Pac-12), arguably the most important game of the season remains and will determine the Pac-12 Conference Championship. On Thursday night, the Cardinal will face rival Cal (7-6-3, 3-4-2 Pac-12) in a must-win game at home.
Currently sitting in second in the Pac-12 with 20 points, Stanford is now a single point behind first-place Washington in the conference standings. A Stanford win and a Washington loss or tie — the Huskies take on Oregon State on Friday — would crown Stanford as the Pac-12 Champions for a sixth straight season. A tie coupled with a Washington loss would render both teams as co-champions.
All season, Stanford’s defense has been the calling card for the team. Despite losing star redshirt senior defender Tanner Beason more than a month ago to injury, the Cardinal have been nothing short of spectacular in his absence.
Stanford has 13 shut-outs in just 17 games and ranks fourth in the country with 0.561 goals against average. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Thomas has been particularly dominant, compiling 50 saves this season.
The last time the Cardinal and Golden Bears faced off was earlier this season when Stanford took down Cal in Berkeley on Sept. 20. After falling to an early 1-0 deficit, junior forward Arda Bulut scored the equalizer after a beautiful feed from freshman forward/midfielder Ousseni Bouda. In the 70th minute, freshman forward Gabe Segal gave the Cardinal a lead they didn’t relinquish with his third goal of the season.
The tandem of Bouda and Segal have been critical for the Cardinal all season. Against Washington on Sunday in another must-win situation with the Pac-12 Championship on the line, Bouda set up Segal perfectly for a header off a feed from the left side. This goal ended up being the difference in the 1-0 contest.
Despite the Golden Bear’s unassuming conference record, the team recently defeated Washington 3-2 and played with life in a close 1-0 loss to Oregon State. Cal’s junior forward Tommy Williamson leads both teams with eight goals scored, and redshirt sophomore forward Alonzo Del Mundo has nine assists.
Cal’s defense, however, has allowed 18 goals this season and can be exploited by Stanford’s potent offense. Spearheaded by Segal and redshirt sophomore forward Zach Ryan, each with six goals, the Cardinal are averaging a robust 1.88 goals per game.
Game time for the potential Pac-12 title determiner is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday at Maloney Field at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.
Contact Jeremy Rubin at jjmrubin ‘at’ stanford.edu.