Stanford senior Brandon Vincent looks at last year's Pac-12 Conference men's soccer title as a nice accomplishment, though it has nothing to do with this season, which officially begins Friday at UC Santa Barbara at 7:30 p.m.
"We're proud of what we accomplished but we're coming into this year with a clean slate," the All-American defender said. "We have high expectations and we have all the right tools."
Vincent and fellow returning first team All-American junior forward Jordan Morris are the most prized of Stanford's toolbox. Stanford, picked to finish second behind UCLA (the preseason No. 1 team) in a vote by conference coaches, is the only school in the nation that returns more than one first team All-American to its ranks.
Morris, who became the first active college player in nearly 20 years to appear with the United States men's national team last year, is the face of the Cardinal program and Vincent, along with returning starting goalkeeper Andrew Epstein, a junior, is its backbone. In between, fourth-year coach Jeremy Gunn can rustle through his roster and come up with a myriad of complementary resources to produce a team capable of competing for a national title.
"You never know how things will unfold," Gunn said. "The competition will be extremely tough and it would be foolish to overlook any opponent. Soccer can be so fickle. It all comes down to one chance, one goal."
Epstein led the conference in Goals Against (0.857) last year, helping Stanford (0.61) top the conference in the category for the first time since 2002. The Cardinal also return its top three scorers, and four of its top five overall in fifth-year senior Eric Verso, Vincent, Morris and sophomore midfielder Corey Baird. Stanford returns six of its eight All-Pac-12 picks from a year ago.
The Cardinal earned a preseason No. 8 ranking, although it was ranked first at one point last season.
Top Drawer Soccer put four Cardinal players on its preseason list of top 100 college players: Morris, Vincent, Baird and sophomore defender Tomas Hillard-Arce.
"It's nice to get a pat on the back," Vincent said. "People notice what we're doing here, but we can't believe the hype. We have to continue to train. It's our performance that matters."
Senior midfielder Ty Thompson and junior defender Brian Nana-Sinkam also return as starters, giving the Cardinal a solid base to pursue its goals this year.
"We have great quantity on the team. We have the pieces," Gunn said. "What we have to guard against is complacency."
Stanford (13-3-3 last year) need only to look at last year's overtime loss, at home, to UC Irvine in the second round of the NCAA tournament for motivation to stay focused. The Cardinal advanced to the Sweet Sixteen the previous season.
"Every year there's only one team happy at the end of the season," Vincent said. "We want to make sure that's us. Having said that, the loss is motivating."
As it happened last year, the Cardinal likely will play a few games without Morris, who is scheduled to compete with the U.S. Under-23 team as it prepares for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Stanford did just fine in those situations last year.
"We have a lot of players and a lot of talent," Vincent said. "Every position is deep and we're confident in whoever is called upon to fill that role."
In addition to the seven returning starters, junior goalie Nick Corti, junior forward Mark Verso, sophomore Foster Langsdorf, senior midfielder Slater Meehan, sophomore defender Drew Skundrich, junior midfielder Trevor Hyman, sophomore forward Bryce Marion and sophomore midfielder Alex Ainscough all saw playing time last year.
Freshman Amir Bashti, a San Jose Earthquakes Academy product, is also a veteran of the U.S. soccer program, having been with the U.S. Under-18 national team, joining Baird, Hilliard-Arce, Vincent and Morris as players with international experience.
"We've got healthy competition for places," Gunn said. "I don't know what our best lineup is yet."
What is known is Vincent's leadership capabilities, which will go a long way for the Cardinal.
"Brandon is an incredible leader," Gunn said. "He takes care of his job all the time and that's important when players recognize that. I hope he continues to grow into that role because he does have an affect on people."
Senior forward Adrian Alabi, a former Georgia state Player of the Year, adds depth, along with redshirt freshmen Sam Werner and Adam Mosharrala.
Bashti leads a talented freshmen class that also includes midfielders Justin Kahl and Colin Hyatt, goalkeepers Charlie Furrer and Pierce Ashworth and defender Tanner Beason.
It could be a special year for the Cardinal if Vincent and company have a say about it.
2015 STANFORD MEN'S SOCCER
Date Opponent Time
Friday at UC Santa Barbara 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 at Louisville 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 4 vs. Northwestern 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 vs. VCU 3 p.m.
Sept. 10 vs. San Jose St. 6 p.m.
Sept. 13 at SMU 5 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. USF 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. Davidson noon
Oct. 4 at Cal* 4 p.m.
Oct. 9 vs. Washington* 8 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Oregon St.* 1 p.m.
Oct. 16 at UCLA 8 p.m.
Oct. 18 at San Diego St.* 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 23 vs. UCLA* 8 p.m.
Oct. 26 vs. San Diego St.* 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 at Oregon St.* 5 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Washington* 7 p.m.
Nov. 12 vs. Cal* 6 p.m.
Nov. 19 NCAA first round
Nov. 22 NCAA second round
Nov. 29 NCAA third round
Dec. 4 NCAA quarterfinals
Dec. 11 College Cup semis#
Dec. 13 College Cup finals#
* Pac-12 Conference
# at Kansas City, Mo.