Baird’s Winner Lifts Cardinal

STANFORD, Calif. – Eric Verso continued his strong start to 2014, Corey Baird found his first career goal with a game-winner in the 66th minute and the No. 24 Stanford men’s soccer team used a gritty performance to notch its biggest win of the season to-date, a 2-1 triumph over No. 11 Delaware at Cagan Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

With the result, Stanford has won five in a row and sits a 5-1-0 overall. It was the Cardinal’s highest win over a ranked opponent in non-conference play since a 2-0 victory at No. 11 UC Irvine on Sept. 7, 2012.

A stalemate in the game’s first 45 minutes was broken, not with a goal, but with the heady, workmanlike play of midfielder Ty Thompson. The junior economics major, who earned his first start of the season on Sunday, won the ball slightly across midfield, slipped past his Delaware (6-2-0) defender and was brought down from behind as he started the break at 52:07. The Hens’ Thibault Philippe was issued a red card for the tackle, which gave Stanford a man advantage for the final 38 minutes.

“What wins us the game is Ty Thompson getting a great step in, working hard defensively, winning the ball and getting brought down,” Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn said. “That completely changes the game. We didn’t score off the free kick, but once we were a man up we really took the initiative. I was impressed with the way we then got settled and started to dominate possession of the ball.”

Eric Verso’s free kick went wide, but the management science and engineering student wouldn’t be denied and freed himself up for his third goal of the season less than two minutes later. Brandon Vincent, who has scored in the past two matches, took the ball to the near corner. A slight hesitation gave him a window to whip in a pass to Jordan Morris, whose flick of the heel found Verso right in front to put the Cardinal up, 1-0.

The Blue Hens responded shortly thereafter, playing the angles perfectly. A Stanford foul gave Delaware a free kick in front of the Cardinal bench, which they started quickly. Jaime Martinez chipped one over the defense to a racing Ben Asante close to the near post. It didn’t look like the midfielder had an angle, but he was able to fire one across the goal and at the far post, finding the only window to grab the equalizer.

“We were thoroughly deserving of going a goal up, but then they score a good return goal,” Gunn added. “It was a quick free quick, but the player [Asante] got sent on such a tight line, I thought we had done enough to force him wide. It’s a tremendous finish from that angle and we’re back into a fight.”

Corey Baird answered the call in the 66th minute with some brilliant play for the go-ahead goal. Morris controlled in front of the box and found the freshman, who drove right at Delaware keeper Borja Barbero and chipped it over from just inside the six-yard box for his first career mark.

Stanford’s second-half effort was a textbook display of the passing and movement that has been a hallmark of the team under Gunn. After an opening frame in which it seemed as if Delaware had the upper hand, the Cardinal was able to settle in to a groove, become more precise, less predictable and more difficult to defend.

“It’s a really impressive win for us,” Gunn said of the result. “Delaware played an excellent game. It was one of those at halftime that truly hangs in the balance and is there for the stronger team to go after. We wanted the guys to just settle down and play through the pressure a bit more and we really did that well in the second half. When we play the simplest passes it makes us move off the ball better. We have wonderful players who can pass and move so quickly, it’s very tough to stop.”

Defensively, keeper Andrew Epstein made four saves for the second consecutive game. The sophomore, along with Stanford’s back line, was aided by the pressure applied on the ball from the Cardinal’s front six, which worked tirelessly against a talented passing team.

Stanford is now 5-0-2 in its last seven games at Cagan Stadium and 18-0-3 when scoring at least two goals under Gunn. The Cardinal returns to the pitch to close out the non-conference portion of its schedule at home on Friday night against Gonzaga at 7 p.m. A win would be Stanford’s sixth straight, a run it hasn’t seen since 2009. 

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