Playoff loss doesn't tarnish successful soccer season


The season ended in a flash; a wild, blurry moment of activity that ended with a soccer ball lying peacefully tangled in the back of the net. It was in stark contrast to the pile of UC Irvine bodies piling up on each other a few feet away.

Stanford players were stopped in their tracks, not quite believing, for a few seconds, that their quest for a deep run into the NCAA men's soccer tournament was quelled so abruptly.

UC Irvine's Michael Sperber took one shot all evening and it resulted in the No. 21 Anteaters' 1-0 overtime victory over the sixth-seeded Cardinal (13-3-3) on a brisk Sunday evening in front of 1,053 fans.

"I feel like overtime goals come down to fitness and we hadn't lost an overtime game in something like two years," Stanford defender and team captain Jimmy Callahan said. "It was like a flip of the coin."

The Cardinal, 7-0-7 in its previous 14 overtime contests, had its chances and just couldn't finish, allowing UC Irvine to advance into the Sweet 16 and a game next Sunday against Providence.

"It was a great passage of play," Callahan said. "They won the ball at midfield and got behind our defense. We had it covered well but it was a great finish."

Stanford seemingly was on the rise after winning its first Pac-12 title in 10 years and controlled play for much of the game.

"We had the better chances throughout the game," Cardinal coach Jeremy Gunn said. "We did a good job of putting ourselves in position to win. We didn't finish our chances. They did."

Stanford saw its nine-game unbeaten streak end after losing to the Anteaters for the first time in nine meetings dating to 1993. The Cardinal also lost on its home field for the first time in 14 matches.

Stanford thought it had scored early in the game when Zach Batteer knocked in a goal just in front of the net.

Callinan's pass into the box seemed to have caught the Anteaters' defense flat-footed and defenders were just standing around when the goal was scored, prompting an offside call that negated the score.

"Getting a goal that early would have helped," Callahan said. "At some point in the game you are going to have ebbs and flows. When it was called off we kept doing our thing. It did not distract us."

Television replays seemed to confirm that Batteer was onside when he tipped the ball in, though it was not from the same angle as the official on the field.

"If you score a goal it needs to stay a goal," Gunn said. "That said, in the second half they were reeling and we threw everything we had at them. We played a great game. We played well enough to win."

Sperber, who recorded his first career goal, was issued a yellow card after a hit from behind on U.S. national team member Jordan Morris, who arrived from Ireland and his first career cap with the national team a few days earlier.

Morris, given a yellow card earlier in the contest, came up favoring his left leg. UC Irvine's Cameron Iwasa and Matt Tilley were also issued cautions in separate incidents.

"The seniors have been absolutely magnificent," Gunn said. "When those guys put everything they have into a game like this, it's tough. We've got an incredibly bright future and we're definitely a powerful soccer program and will stay that way. We're losing some incredible seniors who put their heart and soul into this program and I still think we're one of the best teams in the country."

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