Cardinal wins battle of top ranked teams in women's soccer

Sophia Smith strikes for a goal. Photo by David Hickey.

Catarina Macario looked like a human pin ball, dribbling and bouncing away from one North Carolina women's soccer defender after another while looking to make a play just to the right of the Tar Heels goal.

Last year's national Freshman of the Year was zeroed in on making something happen for top-ranked Stanford, the defending NCAA Division I champion, with the match in its second minute of overtime.

"I just tried to create something and I knew Madison was going to be there," said Macario, who drew the attention of several defenders before rifling a pass across the front of the net that caught the foot of Madison Haley, who first-timed it past a stunned Claudia Dickey for the golden goal in Stanford's 2-1 overtime victory over the visiting second-ranked Tar Heels before a sellout crowd on a sun-washed Sunday.

While Macario had the attention of up to six North Carolina defenders, Haley strolled silently into position like it was a leisurely walk in the park. She stood just outside the goal area a few seconds and when the moment came, burst into action to deliver the knockout blow.

"I knew she would get it off somehow," Cardinal freshman Sophia Smith said of Macario, who held the ball for 16 seconds trying to find an opening. "She always does."

Smith also scored for Stanford (6-0), firing a long-range shot that curled inside the far post, the only available few inches of real estate open to her.

That goal, with an assist from Jordan DiBiasi, ended over 62 minutes of hard-nosed, physical, scoreless soccer between two of the top programs in the nation.

After North Carolina (5-2-1) tied it in the 78th minute, all that was left was for Macario to work her magic.

"That's what separates her being one of the best college players," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said of Macario. "She has great technical skill and exceptional field vision. Taking on defenders and seeing Madison Haley was exceptional."

The victory was just the second over the Tar Heels in 14 meetings, with the first coming in the team's 2014 season-opener in Chapel Hill. Stanford is 2-9-3 all-time against North Carolina.

The Cardinal has won a program best 28 straight and matched the school consecutive unbeaten streak.

"We need tests like that to get us ready for later in the season," Ratcliffe said. "The crowd was great and gave us that extra energy. They also watched players from both teams who will be on the full national team."

Sacred Heart Prep grad Tierna Davidson was just with the national team and scored her first career goal in a win over Chile. On Sunday she was spiked high on her left ankle just before halftime and was on crutches after the game.

Senior midfielder Michelle Xiao also left the game with an apparent right knee injury. "We're hoping it's nothing," Ratcliffe said.

While Macario is the reigning national Freshman of the Year, Smith, who has been a part of the U.S. national team program since she was 14, has already thrown her hat into consideration for this year's honor after delivering her third goal and eighth point of the season.

"This is the best program in the world, I think, and I get to play with amazing players," said Smith, who has been aides by several of her teammates in making the transition to college.

"It's important for the older players to groom the younger ones," Ratcliffe said. "Teach them good work habits and help them develop. She was a great player on the youth level and gives us good depth."

Haley, whose father is NFL Hall of famer Charles Haley, who helped both the 49ers and Cowboys to Super Bowl titles, scored her first goal of the season in her third game.

Stanford continues its homestand with a 7 p.m. game Thursday against Cal Poly. Santa Clara, which beat North Carolina on Friday, visits Stanford for a 4 p.m. game next Sunday.

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