Sports

This Stanford senior has been golden for men's soccer team

 

Austin Meyer saw his life's dreams and ambitions intersect at the moment he struck the ball that turned into the game-winning goal for the Stanford men's soccer team Sunday in Berkeley.

A significant portion of those ambitions continue this Sunday when the top-ranked and sixth-seeded Cardinal hosts UC Irvine (15-5-3), a 3-0 winner over UNLV (14-5-3) on Thursday night, in an NCAA second-round match at 5 p.m.

Should the Cardinal women win their second-round match against Arkansas on Friday, they'll play Sunday at Cagan Stadium at 1 p.m.

The youngest of three brothers, Meyer grew up attending California soccer matches with his brother Jordan, "a California Bear through and through," said Austin. He played club soccer for Santa Rosa United, which reached a No. 6 ranking in his final with the club.

He came to Stanford, in part, because of the history of championship play in everything it does.

"When I committed to Stanford, I always dreamed of the big opportunities we have now," he said. "They had just made it to the Sweet Sixteen when I was a senior in high school."

The fifth-year senior, who has a Stanford degree in hand (English) and who is currently working toward a master's degree in journalism ("video"), helped form an improvisation group on campus that has developed into a business.

Meyer's goal was a result of an improvised play that came about because of a feeling he had as the second overtime was beginning.

"Usually I am the deep guy as a midfielder," Meyer said. "I sit behind the front four and my partner, Ty Thompson, goes forward a little bit. By that time I knew UCLA has won and you just don't get those kinds of opportunities often. So I asked Ty to hold for me, that I was going into the box."

Jordan and his parents, Roy and Pamela, were in the stands. Brendan, the other brother, was watching the game on television.

The box was full of defenders and attackers alike. Senior Zach Batteer initiated the play with a backward pass to freshman Corey Baird, who put the ball on Meyer's feet. Meyer drilled the ball along the ground past Cal's goalie and into the net to give Stanford its first Pac-12 title and the first conference crown in 13 years.

Meyer scored his third career goal, all of which have been golden goals.

"It was special to win it like that, on that field where I had watched so many games," Meyer said. "It was such a big moment I let myself enjoy it an extra day before putting it behind me."

Monday was no ordinary day for Meyer. He could not avoid reliving it even had he wanted.

"I've never had so many people coming up to me and congratulating me," he said. "It started when I was biking to school. The cross guard congratulated me. There was a poster, with my picture on it, on the door of one of my classes. It was special."

The day was made even more special when the team got to watch Cardinal sophomore Jordan Morris make his first appearance for the U.S. National Team in its 4-1 loss to Ireland in a friendly.

"It was at the beginning of practice and we were all able to gather around a TV," Meyer said. "When we saw the coach giving him instructions, we knew. He made a great pass when he got on the field. He looked good."

Morris, who sent congratulatory messages to the team last Sunday, will be with the Cardinal this Sunday.

"That just adds to the excitement and confidence going forward," Meyer said. "I know he's excited."

Meyer's first two years, however, were anything but exciting.

"We were under .500 and I had seen pretty much nothing of the field," he said. "My confidence in myself and the team took a knock. It was tough to come through and still keep that belief."

Success has bred success, though, and the change in attitude led to the transformation. Last year, Stanford returned to the Sweet Sixteen. This year, perhaps a trip to the Final Four is in the stars.

"We knew coming into the season we had the talent to be one of those top teams," Meyer added. "Coming into the Pac-12, we were very aware that every team was capable of beating every other team. When we lost to Washington we had to stay positive because we knew people beat each other. With four games left, we had our window. The fact we had destiny in our own hands was an opportunity."

Stanford (13-2-3) has not lost since, and could remain at home, where it is 8-0-2 on the year, through the quarterfinals.

The Pac-12 sent five of its six teams to the tournament and San Diego State was no pushover. Washington and UCLA were each ranked No. 1 at one point of the season and Cal was a top 10 team. Oregon State is also ranked.

"We're certainly battle-tested coming out of the conference," Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn said. "We had to compete at the highest level every match."

Morris may be the best known player on a team full of quality, versatile players. He's second on the team with 14 points on four goals and a team-best six assists. Yet, he's one of 13 players with at least one goal, and one of 15 with a point.

Eric Verso has five goals and five assists for 15 points, while Brandon Vincent has a team-high six goals with an assist. Batteer and Baird each have 12 points. Meyer and Bobby Edwards each have nine points.

There are 121 players who have scored more than six goals in Division I play, and 45 with more than six assists. But there is only one team, Syracuse, with a better won-lost-tied percentage and no team has lost fewer than two matches.

Gunn will take team over player any day.

"I'm proud of the results," he said. "I'm more proud that we don't play boring games."

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