Widgets Magazine

M. Soccer: Rebounding Card to open Pac-10 season against Cal

The Stanford men’s soccer team (4-4-0) will face a stiff test as it opens Pac-10 play at home on Saturday night against No. 16 Cal (6-2-1).

Four straight losses to open the season meant that the Cardinal’s preseason ranking went out the window, but the players believe they have hit their stride just in the nick of time.

“We dug ourselves a really big hole by losing the first four games, but everyone is really confident now, said junior defender Tommy Ryan. “We look at it as though we are going into Pac-10s with essentially a clean slate. Four and four [wins and losses] might as well be 0-0.”

The Cardinal’s defense has certainly stepped up this year, allowing just eight goals in eight games. Redshirt freshman Jason Dodson has stepped into the role of starting goalie decisively–his goals against average is a stingy 0.98.

Sophmore Adam Jahn, above, has played a key role in Stanford's turnaround after a tough opening to the season. The forward is currently third on the team with five points. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

The offense, often dormant in the first four games, has really come into its own during the four-game winning streak. Senior forward Dominique Yahyavi leads the team with four goals on just 10 shots.

Senior defender Bobby Warshaw has been his usual dominant self, controlling the back line and getting forward enough to score three goals, including two game-winners. In one of the early front-runners for goal of the year against St. Mary’s, Warshaw found himself alone on the back post after a deflected corner kick, and executed a remarkable bicycle kick past the stunned Gaels goalkeeper.

For its part, Cal looks to be a worthy adversary, coming into the game with a No. 16 ranking and a four-match unbeaten streak. But the Golden Bears’ most recent game was a 2-2 draw with Denver, a team which Stanford beat 1-0 last Sunday. And the Bears were lucky not to have lost–they scored an equalizer with just 54 seconds left.

With the Cardinal on a roll and Cal experiencing somewhat of a drop-off from some stellar play to open the season, this Saturday’s matchup looks promising. But Cal has historically given Stanford fits on the soccer field. Stanford has had one win over its cross-town rivals in the last nine years, and the Bears have won the last four meetings, all with a score of 1-0.

But the players insist that what happened in the past has nothing to do with preparing for this game.

“We only focus one game on at time,” said sophomore defender Hunter Gorskie. “We have been watching film, studying their tendencies, and from a preparation standpoint I think we are really solid,” he said. “Once that game is over we look to the next team.”

The team will benefit from having only one game this weekend after a loaded schedule to this point.

“This was the fourth week in a row we had Friday-Sunday games,” said head coach Bret Simon. “It’s a really heavy load for the players, and with some of the injuries we’ve had, it’s asking a lot.”

Regardless of the tough schedule and early season struggles, the Cardinal needs to get off to a good start in Pac-10 play if it wants to have any chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament. After the game against Cal, the team hits the road against Washington and Oregon State before coming home to face UCLA and San Diego State.

Of the six teams in the soccer version of the Pac-10, only Stanford and Oregon State are unranked–Washington (6-1-1) is currently No. 23, San Diego State (6-1-1) is No. 22, UCLA (5-2-1) is No. 20 and Cal is No. 16. Despite being unranked, Oregon State is 5-2.

Remembering that Stanford was picked to finish second in the preseason media poll, Simon remains undaunted by the crowded field.

“This year is really wide open,” he said. “Everyone in the Pac-10 started well, and I think that any of the teams is capable of winning, which isn’t always the case. We’ve gotten ourselves in a position to be back in the picture for the NCAA Tournament, and every game is going to be very interesting. I don’t see anyone running the table.”

For the Cardinal to take home its first Pac-10 title since Simon’s first year on the Farm in 2001, it must keep its momentum rolling and prove that the play of the last four games–and not the first four–is what fans should expect to see the rest of the year.

Kickoff at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday.

About Miles Bennett-Smith

Miles Bennett-Smith is Chief Operating Officer at The Daily. An avid sports fan from Penryn, Calif., Miles graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies. He has previously served as the Editor in Chief and President at The Daily. He has also worked as a reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Email him at eic@stanforddaily.com