Widgets Magazine
Falling into place: Jeremy Gunn leads men’s soccer into new era
Stanford men's soccer head coach Jeremy Gunn (above) has brought his team into national relevancy since arriving on The Farm. Stanford is currently ranked No. 3 in the country behind Creighton and North Carolina. (RICHARD C. ERSTED/stanfordphoto.com)

Falling into place: Jeremy Gunn leads men’s soccer into new era

Two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Home to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s only collegiate player. Defending Pac-12 Champions. The No. 3 team in the country.

If you had told collegiate soccer fans four seasons ago that those descriptions reflect what the Stanford men’s soccer program would achieve a few years later, they would have probably been shocked.

In 2011, the team went 6-11-4, as part of a slew of losing or mediocre seasons the program had experienced for most of the 2000s. The Cardinal had only earned a single NCAA tournament berth once since 2002, while the Pac-12 title had eluded The Farm since 2001.

But a lot has happened since 2011 — perhaps most importantly the arrival of Jeremy Gunn a year later.

Gunn, the team’s new head coach, brought an English accent and European flair to the program, as well as a philosophy he had compiled from past coaching and life experiences, one that he intended to impose on his new team.

“For any high performing environment, everybody’s got to be all in, everybody’s got to be willing to work their hardest,” Gunn said. “In the sport, it doesn’t matter if people are trying to be a pro or what they’re trying to do after college. They just have to promise the program that they have to do their utmost to become as good as they can be.

“If everybody does that, then you’ve got a chance.”

Four seasons later, a chance is precisely what the team has going into conference play this Sunday.

It has the chance to continue building upon its recent success that culminated in a historic season last year.

It has the chance to assert its Pac-12 dominance, as it is currently the highest nationally-ranked team in the conference.

It has the chance to win back-to-back Pac-12 titles after going more than a decade without one.

It has the chance to redeem itself after an early tournament exit last year, and if all goes according to plan, end up in the national championship game.

Yet these chances were hardly easy to come by.

Once he arrived on The Farm, Gunn’s standards for determining his players’ commitment were demanding.

“He wanted to make sure everyone that was there wanted to be there and wanted to really push,” senior defender and co-captain Brandon Vincent said. “And so he tested us. A lot of guys lived up to the test and were fine and some guys couldn’t handle it and so they ended up quitting. After we had that testing period we just had the core group of guys that really made up our team and that core of guys went on to the Sweet 16.”

During his first few weeks at Stanford, the coach had his players complete a food log to keep track of their diets. When the due date arrived, everyone turned in their findings except for one player, who thought it was okay if the coach looked at his roommates’ log, since the two ate the same meals.

“That didn’t fly with Gunn.”

“He was teaching us about following instructions,” fifth-year senior midfield Eric Verso said, “And so instead of training in the afternoon he said ‘All right, we’re training tomorrow morning. We’ll see you at 7.’

“So we got out there at 7. I was one of the ball boys and there was debate on whether we should bring the balls to training because he said we were going to do some fitness work, but we didn’t know how much.

“We decided not to bring the balls to training, which ended up being a good idea because we probably did fitness for two and a half hours. From that point on that set the tone in the program about discipline and taking things seriously.”

“When we ask people to do something, we follow through with it,” said Gunn about his coaching style. “I think that’s probably the strongest foundation you can have for anything.”

Gunn’s demands and tests paid off for his first season at Stanford, which resulted in a 9-8-1 overall record. The Cardinal finished third in the Pac-12 but sat out of the NCAA tournament.

There was, however, a method to his madness that would become apparent over time: In 2013, the team notched 10 wins and, despite ending the regular season fourth in the Pac-12, Stanford appeared in its first NCAA tournament since 2009. It squeaked out a close game against Loyola Marymount in penalty kicks and beat No. 20 Cal State Northridge before falling to Washington in the Sweet 16.

“[During Gunn’s first year] we were just learning the basics of his system, so that is what led us to having a winning season,” said senior midfielder and co-captain Ty Thompson. “We were close to making the tournament but didn’t quite make it and I think that was because we didn’t quite understand exactly the principles of his system.

“So once we learned the system, we had learned it very well by my sophomore year [Gunn’s second year], guys knew exactly what they were doing. Everyone was on the same page, and we had a lot of good individuals…so things were kind of coming together.”

Whether it was Gunn’s tough-love system finally kicking in, his implementation of a more possession-oriented offense or his recruiting bringing in some top-notch talent, things started to fall into place in 2014.

During conference play, the team would only lose one contest — to No. 5 Washington — after which it picked up several key wins and three ties, two of which were against UCLA, which, despite being ranked No. 2 and No. 1 on the respective occasions it faced Stanford, just couldn’t break the Cardinal in double-overtime.

The team ended the season with 13 wins — its highest since 2002; yet the more historic breakthrough of the season came when the Cardinal won their first Pac-12 title since 2001.

“That was a special congratulations and pat on the back for everyone in the program where we could really be proud of everything we’d work for,” Gunn said.

Not only had Gunn’s system and philosophy had time to fully marinate, but he had made adjustments to the team’s playing style, as well.

“We worked almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball and making it tough for opponents to break us down,” Vincent said. “And I think as we became more comfortable and the talent level has grown we have implemented more facets to our game offensively.

“Despite us becoming more explosive offensively, more creative offensively, we still have that sharp, hard-working discipline that he has instilled in us. Even if we’re not performing well on the day we’ve always had that to fall back on.”

Gunn’s game schemes are not the only things to have evolved over the past few years.

“In the beginning it was very much him dictating what the team did and how we went about things,” Vincent said,” a lot of him telling us what to do. I think as we’ve evolved more of the responsibilities have been placed on us to take care of things.”

“Things have changed a lot,” Thompson said. “Because the new culture has been established, it’s more just kind of maintaining it and he has guys, the seniors who have been there since the beginning, we know how it’s supposed to be and so we kind of help guide the group in that direction so there isn’t as much guidance coming from him.”

Despite the team’s early tournament exit last season, the team’s results and Gunn’s coaching spoke for themselves: Stanford is a force to be reckoned with, and with most of its starters, including U.S. national team member Jordan Morris, returning, that wasn’t going to chance any time soon.

“It takes time to embed things,” Gunn said. “When you’re a new coach, you’re giving new ideas to 28 new people. Everybody’s lost to begin with, and then each year you got more and more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that are already there. It gets easier and it becomes second nature.

“I think we had the perfect balance between that hunger and desire to go forward coupled with great experience and confidence and knowledge.”

***

The team will be bringing that hunger, desire, experience, confidence and knowledge to Berkeley this Sunday, when it kicks off conference play against rival Cal, its first of many tough conference rivals.

The team’s refusal to fall into the trap of complacency from its recent success is palpable, and, as they look forward, the players’ determination to, as they say, control their own luck motivates them to not settle for ties: they’re looking to win every game — and by a lot.

But Gunn’s recipe for success, however, boils down to something much simpler.

“You just have to score one more goal.”

Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Alexa Philippou

Alexa Philippou '18 is a political science major and a former Managing Editor of The Daily's sports section. She switched from the sports section to news her junior year, where she has worked on the university/local beat since. Being from Baltimore, she is a die-hard Ravens and Orioles fan who cried when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. To contact Alexa, please email her at aphil723 'at' stanford.edu.