Widgets Magazine

M. Soccer: Cardinal heads south to begin Pac-12 play

Freshman forward Zach Batteer is fourth on the team with 11 shots, but consistent with the Cardinal's scoring woes, has not been able to find the back of the net through eight games this season. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

Fresh off two key wins at home against Vermont and Harvard last weekend, the men’s soccer team enters Pac-12 play with momentum on its side for the first time all fall. Losing four of the first five matches to begin the season brought back memories of last year, when the Cardinal (3-4-1) lost four straight games and struggled to recover, ultimately missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in eight years.

Head coach Bret Simon puts much of the blame for the early-season hiccups on himself.

“Sometime in the winter and spring, I think I may have overestimated how much ground we could cover,” Simon said. “A coach has a concept in his mind of how the team will play the following year. It looks good in training, but the vision I saw for the team this fall just didn’t work when we got there.”

Stanford lost five regular starters and several key bench pieces, and a slight change in the formation has left just three players starting in the same position as last season — one of whom is redshirt sophomore goalie Jason Dodson.

“To put all those pieces together, on the road, with all the new roles and new players, it just didn’t quite happen,” Simon said of having to play the first three matches on the road to open the year. It didn’t help that one of those games was against then-No. 4 Maryland — the Terrapins rode a large home crowd and several early strikes to a 4-0 victory.

“It was a lesson to be learned,” Simon said.

But the team has come together over the subsequent games, and the players seem to be adjusting to their new roles. Junior Adam Jahn, in particular, has taken to his new position in the midfield. The former forward from Davis, Calif., was named to Soccer America’s National Team of the Week and given Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after scoring the game-winning goal against Harvard and adding a go-ahead assist against Vermont.

Junior Eric Anderson has found a new home himself as an outside back. Anderson had played both up top and as an outside midfielder before transitioning to the defense this season. His speed and dangerous crosses have added another dimension to the Cardinal attack — the San Francisco native leads the team with three assists.

Stanford will need all the offense it can get in order to hang with San Diego State in the Pac-12 opener on Friday afternoon. The Aztecs (5-1-2) and their high-octane offense have already scored 17 goals through the first eight games — the Cardinal has scored just eight.

2010 All-Pac-10 selection Miles Byass has gotten off to a blistering start, scoring three goals for San Diego State with four assists to boot. Stanford will need to slow down Byass, who keys part of the Aztec attack from his spot up top, in order to slow the pace of the game.

It won’t get much easier for Stanford on Sunday, when the Cardinal takes on No. 25 UCLA (5-3-1). The Bruins were picked to win the Pac-12 before the season in the coaches’ poll and were runners-up in the conference to California last year.

UCLA started off the season with two losses and a tie but won five straight matches before dropping a 2-1 decision at home against SMU last weekend. The Bruins are led by sophomore midfielder Kelyn Rowe — an early candidate for Player of the Year after a brilliant freshman season in Westwood — but have seen an explosion of offense from junior Chandler Hoffman. The Bruin forward has an astounding nine goals in the first nine games, including a hat trick in UCLA’s comeback win over UC-Santa Barbara.

The Cardinal has never won at UCLA in the modern era (dating to 1967), but needs a good result in order to avoid falling behind in the brutal Pac-12. Overall, Stanford is 7-31-4 all-time against the Bruins and just 6-11-5 against San Diego State but split the season series with both last year.

After the weekend road trip, Stanford will return for a three-game homestand, but with just 10 games in the conference schedule, points will be at a premium.

“Getting the first shutout for our back four on Friday was huge,” said junior captain Hunter Gorskie. “We’re feeling really good, just very excited heading into Pac-12 play.”

Today’s game will kick off at 1:30 p.m. in San Diego, with Sunday’s UCLA match slated for 3 p.m.

Contact Miles Bennett-Smith at milesbs “at” stanford.edu.

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