One down. Two to go. Coming into Friday night's match against No. 3 Washington in control of its own destiny in the race for the Pac-12 title, the No. 10 Stanford men's soccer team remained in the driver's seat for its first league championship since 2001 with a dominating 2-0 victory over the visiting Huskies in front of 1,656 at Cagan Stadium.
With the win, Stanford moves to 11-2-3 overall and 4-1-3 in the Pac-12. Coupled with Oregon State's 4-3 win at No. 7 California earlier in the afternoon, the Cardinal leapfrogged both the Golden Bears and Huskies in the conference table and now own 15 points, just two behind UCLA.
The Bruins have one match left (vs. SDSU) and can max out at 20 points, while Stanford remains the only team in the league that holds its fate in its hands. Victories in the Cardinal's final two regular-season games will earn the program its second-ever Pac-12 championship.
The Huskies (11-4-1, 4-3-1) delivered the game's first punch, earning six corner kicks, hitting the post on one shot, having two others blocked and the last sail high all in the first 10 minutes. But over the final 80, Stanford orchestrated a masterful performance, putting 13 of its 19 shots on goal, forcing UW keeper Spencer Richey into 10 saves and earning its first win over Washington since Nov. 7, 2008 in the process.
Zach Batteer continued a memorable senior season with a flick of his head in the 18th minute, scoring the game's first against the run of play. Austin Meyer controlled in front of Washington bench 40 yards out and curled his service into the center of the box. Batteer out-jumped the Huskies' Justin Schmidt and without even having an eye on the goal, nodded his head backwards and the ball up and over Richey to tilt things in favor of the Cardinal.
"We were under a lot of pressure," Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn said. "We managed to dodge a couple of bullets, but in soccer, as always, goals are everything. Zach scores an incredible header very much against the run of play. I joked at halftime while on the Pac-12 Networks that there are days when we're playing a fantastic match and missing chances so let's be second best and score. That's just how the game is. It suddenly gave us a bit more confidence and we settled in."
The goal was Batteer's fourth of the season and 20th of his career. After tallying just one assist in his first eight games of the season, the earth systems major has been on a tear of late and has registered a point in six of Stanford's last seven on four goals and three assists.
The senior's third assist during his impressive run came early in the second half. UW's Ian Lange attempted to clear out of the Huskies' end, but his ball hit James Moberg's heel. Batteer raced in, got a poke on the ball to open up some space and split his defenders in the box. Instead of beating Richey one-on-one, he calmly drew out Washington's keeper with one last touch and delivered a pass across the face of goal to Jordan Morris, who easily tapped home his fourth of the season into an empty net.
Amazingly enough, it's just the second time the two formidable talents up top have connected on a goal for the Cardinal in 2014. Immediately following that second goal, Morris found space at the top of the box and powered a shot with his left foot that forced Richey to make a diving save. Another confident play seconds later had Morris take a shot from just outside the 18 that was blocked and drew a corner for Stanford.
"Jordan was absolutely unplayable tonight," Gunn added. "[But it was a lovely feed by Zach. That's one of those striker partnership goals. You try to work with players and create instincts. If you look over the last couple of years we've broken into those situations and they know where each other are quite a lot. It was an unselfish pass, but also a great one because it put Jordan in the clear."
Stanford had a few more chances to grab its third goal. In the 65th, Batteer dribbled through the box and played it over to Eric Verso, who chested it to his feet and launched a shot that was saved by Richey coming off his line. Sixteen minutes later a Hilliard-Arce whipping header went just wide off a Ty Thompson free kick and in the 82nd Foster Lansdorf settled a long ball played in by Brian Nana-Sinkam, touched and fired, but had the attempt again stopped by Richey.
Andrew Epstein made a pair of saves for Stanford, the biggest coming right at the end of the first half when he stoned Cristian Roldan with a minute to go until the horn, a chance which could have swung momentum heading into the locker room. At the game's finish, the sophomore again shut down a prime UW chance, this time on a point-blank header from James Moberg (82').
Stanford's path to the title continues Sunday at 3 p.m. when it hosts Oregon State (10-6-1, 3-4-1) in a match televised on the Pac-12 Networks.