Championship Clinched in the Clutch
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford and Washington are used to tight contests. In fact, 10 of the last 11 matches between the two have been decided by a goal or less. Unlike a victory for the Huskies this season in March, the No. 8 Cardinal turned the tables on Saturday, defeating sixth-ranked UW 1-0 in overtime to clinch the Pac-12 championship and the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The win pushed Stanford to 9-2-1 overall and 7-2-1 in conference play, just one point better than Washington's 7-3 record to claim the trophy. The Pac-12 championship is Stanford's sixth in the last seven years.
"As always, our games with UW are barnstormers," said Knowles Family Director of Men's Soccer Jeremy Gunn. "Both teams play incredible soccer throughout the year, and then we come toe-to-toe. It's just so tough for both teams to settle, because it's just that incredible, wonderful rivalry."
Indeed, the early moments of the match had both teams feeling out the other, and the tension at Cagan Stadium was palpable as both sides knew what was on the line. The Huskies were the aggressors early, sending in three of the matches first four shots, but Stanford would soon find its footing and tilt the field in the direction of the Cardinal.
"Today's match was no different. I was really happy, I felt that we were the team that managed to get the ball down in play more than our opponents. In one of those tough, tight games where there's nothing given, I just felt like we always looked the more likely to score," said Gunn.
Stanford's first shot on goal came in the 25th minute, a rocket from Gabe Segal that nearly found the corner of the goal if not for a late deflecting hand from the UW keeper. The match went on, and play was physical throughout, with six yellow cards being handed out in total.
As the minutes wore on, Stanford was firmly ahead in terms of possession of the ball, knowing they could not settle for a tie to claim the championship. Washington was firm in its defense, not allowing the Cardinal an inch of space to get a shot off or make a connection from either flank.
"The game could always have gone either way. They were always threatening in different ways, on the counter attack, but we looked like the aggressor. We looked like the team putting them under pressure. Credit to them, they were bending, not breaking," said Gunn.
Stanford's best opportunity in regulation perhaps came on a shot from Cam Cilley, who had a chance at point blank range but flicked a shot just above the crossbar. Both teams refocused heading into overtime, but it was again the Cardinal putting its foot on the gas pedal before eventually finding the break it needed.
On a set piece opportunity following a Washington foul on the left side of the field, Keegan Tingey set up and delivered a bending ball into the box that found the head of the team's leading goal scorer, Zach Ryan. All it took was one touch from Ryan who sent the ball into the back of the net, and the celebration commenced.
"We've not scored many set pieces this year. It's something that we've traditionally been good with, so we've talked about every time we step on the field, there's an opportunity for some firsts. It was a wonderful delivery from Keegan and a great header from Zach Ryan," said Gunn.
Gunn added, "I must note, Zach Ryan has to be the conference MVP. He's taken a lot of physical punishment, and he's shown just how tough he is. I can't speak highly enough of him. He's been brilliant as a player on the ball, but he's superhuman with his attitude and his toughness. What a great captain."
"Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't wholeheartedly thank the Stanford Athletics administration, leadership and support staff for working tirelessly and relentlessly to give our student-athletes the chance to even have season this school year. We are lucky to be in a place where we can confidently follow the direction of our medical staff, and conduct a season not just successfully, but more importantly, safely."
Next up for the Cardinal is the NCAA Tournament, with all rounds set to take place in Cary, N.C. The NCAA Selection Show is Monday, April 19 at 9 a.m. PT.