Sports


Cardinal men to play for NCAA soccer championship vs. Clemson

 

A marathon day of tense, dramatic NCAA men's soccer action in Kansas City on Friday ended without a goal scored in regulation play, though the two survivors, including seventh-ranked and eighth-seeded Stanford, will meet Sunday morning in Sporting Park to decide the national champion.

Corey Baird gave the Cardinal its final advantage and No. 4 Akron could not answer, allowing Stanford to advance to its third ever championship match and its first since 2002.

The game goes down as a draw, and as the 8-7 edge in penalty kicks indicate, there wasn't much of a difference between the two teams.

"Tremendous game," Cardinal coach Jeremy Gunn said. "Heart felt for Akron. It was an unbelievable hard fought game. The first half we looked the most dangerous team, but they did pass and move it well and that was going to tire us. Second half they continued to pass and move it but we weren't giving them too many looks."

Stanford (17-2-3) meets No. 2 Clemson (17-2-4) at 11 a.m. (PT) on ESPNU. The Tigers advanced over Syracuse on penalty kicks, 4-1.

The Cardinal out-shot the Zips, 12-10, including a 6-2 advantage in shots on goal. Both goalkeepers were up to the challenge in the largely defensive struggle. Andrew Epstein recorded two saves for Stanford.

Baird, second on the team with 11 assists, was also the first to get a shot off in the contest and it took nearly 20 minutes to produce it.

Akron had chances to put the Cardinal away in the penalty kick phase but big saves and near misses continued the drama until the last kick of the night failed to cross the goal line.

"Our team is going to be thinking about how great they did," Gunn said. "The poor Akron players are thinking about that one little thing. It's just such a close game, soccer. It's such a fine line."

Stanford missed its first try and the Zips took advantage to gain the early lead. All-American Brandon Vincent, Mark Verso and All-American Jordan Morris each connected to make it 3-3 heading into Akron's fourth try, which Epstein saved.

The first round ended at 4-4 after Eric Verso and Akron's Victor Souto matched made kicks.

Adam Mosharrafa scored for Stanford and Andrew Souders matched it for 5-5 and then Cardinal senior Slater Meehan missed his attempt to set up another tense moment. Akron's Goncalo Soares' attempt hit the post to keep things tied.

"When you see Andrew diving the wrong way you kind of stop and think this could be it," Baird said. "We could be out. We got a lucky break and it hit the post."

Brian Nana-Sinkam, Sam Werner and Baird scored for Stanford. The Zips matched the first two but Epstein saved the best for last, stopping Nate Shultz's try and sending the Cardinal into delirium and the title match.

"I didn't think about it and went and read him the best I could," Epstein said. "When the ball hit my hands I was tearing off toward midfield, just so excited to see these guys coming the same way. It's a goal we've had all year and we are elated to be here and ready to get the job done on Sunday."

Clemson is seeking its third NCAA title in its fourth trip to the title match, though the Tigers haven't been here since winning it all in 1987. Stanford is looking for its first ever men's soccer title.

In overtime, Epstein swung his leg in the path of a breakaway shot in the 97th minute to preserve a 0-0 draw. Akron's Richie Laryea was sprung with only Epstein to beat, but was denied.

Earlier in the first overtime, Stanford's Foster Langsdorf nearly scored the winner. Cardinal left back Vincent moved forward to send a one-touch left-footer to the edge of the six-yard box.

Langsdorf got his left leg on the ball as he crashed the goal with a defender on his hip, only for the bouncing shot to be saved at point-blank range by Akron goalkeeper Jake Fenlason.

In the 96th minute, Eric Verso forced another strong Fenlason save, this time just inside the post.

In the second overtime, Vincent got to the end line and dropped a pass back to Jordan Morris, whose dangerous shot was blocked by a defender.

The Cardinal was close to putting together some dangerous chances, but was just short several times.

"Akron is good on the ball and broke our pressure a lot of times, but it's a credit to us for rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done," Vincent said. "We are sticking to the task and not giving them many chances on goal and that's a big part of our back line being successful and Andy coming up big when we need it."

Morris, a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, created two early chances. Midway through the first half, Morris had a shot blocked from the left side, gathered the rebound and sent a soft pass into the middle for Langsdorf, who hit a first touch with the outside of his right foot that was saved.

The same combination created a more dangerous chance when Morris sent a through ball that Langsdorf met in the open field. He pulled up from his run inside the box, from a right-side angle, fired across goal, only for it to be saved by Akron goalkeeper Jake Fenlason.

When Akron did threaten, Cardinal defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce prevented a shot with a slide tackle inside the box.

Early in the second half, Vincent struck a cross on an overlapping run that was blocked by a defender. Vincent cut in front of his Akron marker with space in the box and centered the ball that traveled unimpeded across the goalmouth, just too far ahead of Morris.

Akron pushed harder in the second half and picked up the pace. Ty Thompson blocked one shot just outside the penalty area, and the Stanford defense held firm by not allowing Akron to get into a dangerous position.

In the 80th minute, Akron's Laryea found space across the middle and unleashed the most dangerous shot to that point, only for it to travel barely high over the upper right corner.

In the 88th minute, Stanford's Amir Bashti sent a great through ball from the midfield stripe to Morris on the run, but Fenlason came out of the box to kick the pass away just before Morris could get a touch.

In the final seconds of regulation, Epstein punched away a corner kick and an Akron rebound went astray, and the match headed to overtime.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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