Sports

Stanford men's soccer just two wins from a national title

 

Senior co-captain Brandon Vincent, the heart of the Stanford men's soccer defense, took a little less than one second to admonish himself for hitting the crossbar on a penalty kick during overtime last Saturday before dashing back into position.

That's how long he gave himself before clearing his mind of everything but the task at hand. As a result, he was ready to support another attack three minutes later that led to the Cardinal's 2-1 sudden-death victory over host and top-ranked Wake Forest and a trip to the College Cup this weekend at the state-of-the-art, 18,467-seat (the stadium can hold over 21,000) Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.


Eighth-seeded Stanford (17-2-2) meets No. 4 seed Akron (18-3-2) at 5:30 p.m. (PT) in the late national semifinal Friday. No. 2 Clemson (17-2-3) and No. 6 Syracuse (16-5-3) clash in the earlier semifinal.

The winners meet Sunday at 11 a.m. (PT) in the national championship game.

Vincent, Slater Meehan, Ty Thompson and Eric Verso are the lone seniors on a Stanford team that reached its first College Cup in 13 years.

Junior forward Jordan Morris, also a member of the U.S. national and Under-23 teams, is Stanford's top offensive threat and he's playing better now than at any time during his college career. He's scored 11 goals in 16 games, including 10 in his past 12 and three in his last two.

"Every year you continue to grow," Morris said. "Under (head coach Jeremy) Gunn we've had more possession time than in previous years, when we were more about defending. He's very good at getting each player to understand his role. Everyone's role is very clear and it's very much a team effort."

Ten different players have scored at least one goal for Stanford, with Foster Langsdorf the second-leading goal scorer with seven. Vincent has five goals.

Verso, with 12, and Corey Baird, with 11, have combined for 23 of the Cardinal's 44 assists, which ranks seventh nationally. If the Stanford teammates were a school, they would rank in a tie for 94th among the 202 Division I soccer teams. Stanford ranks 11th nationally in goals-against average at 0.69.

The Cardinal and Zips had five common opponents this season in Wake Forest, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, UCLA and SMU. Akron went 3-2 against them, outscoring them, 9-7. Stanford went 4-1-1, meeting the Bruins twice in Pac-12 play, outscoring them 12-8.

Akron, second in the nation with a 2.43 scoring average, won the national title in 2010 and was national runner-up on two other occasions.

Clemson owns two national titles (1984, 1987) and was a runner-up on one other occasion. The Cardinal, tied for 24th nationally with 1.86 goals per game, reached the national title game in 2002 -- losing to UCLA -- and in 1998 -- losing to Indiana. Syracuse has never played for a national title. This is the furthest the Orangemen have gone in the tournament after reaching the third round last year.

"It would be unbelievable and incredible for the players," Gunn said of the possibility of winning the school's first men's soccer title. "It would mean the world to everybody. To the university, it's another day at the office. That's what Stanford does."

Gunn was being playful, though only UCLA has won more overall NCAA titles than Stanford's 107.

"The blue sky goal is to build an empire here," Gunn said. "You always hope to have great seasons like this. You see other programs do it year in and year out."

For Vincent, reaching the College Cup embodies one of several steps the Cardinal has taken.

"This is what we play for," said Vincent, a semifinalist (with Morris) for the MAC Hermann Trophy, soccer's version of the Heisman Trophy. "We've had this conversation since my freshman year. We've fallen short in years past, but we use that as motivation. We're on the doorstep and we want to keep fighting together until we get (the title)."

Vincent's ability to quickly disengage from a missed penalty kick is a result of working specifically on the mental aspect of the game.

"It's where everything stems from," Vincent said. "You've got to be level-headed in every situation and we have training sessions where we know we will be tested. You keep the same gritty, hard-working attitude no matter the situation."

The team works with a sports psychologist "to try and maximize every facet of the program," Gunn said. "I'm a long-time believer that the mental is so much more important than the physical aspect."

Gunn pointed to the consistency of his team's play as its special quality.

"They're probably more stressed about their physics exam than come kickoff time," Gunn said. "The players are ready, excited and confident. It's not pressure, it's an exciting opportunity."

Gunn has been to the College Cup before, leading Charlotte to the national title game in 2011. He also coached Fort Lewis to the national Division II title in 2005 and was an assistant with Cal State Bakersfield when it won the Division II title in 1997.

"You learn lessons from the times you've gone," Gunn said. "The first time is some crazy, weird unknown thing. So many things are different and I tell them to enjoy the experience."

NOTES: Vincent was named a Senior CLASS Award Second Team All-American it was announced Thursday morning.

The award for men's soccer is chosen by a vote of Division I men's soccer coaches, national soccer media and fans and is given annually to outstanding senior student-athletes in Division I men's soccer. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: classroom, community, character and competition.

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