Stanford’s Andrew Thomas made two saves in the shootout and the Stanford men’s soccer team advanced past an ACC school on the road to advance to the College Cup for the fourth time in five seasons, knocking off Clemson 5-4 on penalty kicks Friday night.
The Cardinal (14-2-5) returns to the College Cup after a one-year hiatus and will meet the winner of Saturday’s match between Georgetown (17-1-3) and Washington (17-3-0) next Friday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. Stanford will attempt to win its fourth national championship in the past five years.
“The boys remain composed and took so many good penalties,” Cardinal coach Jeremy Gunn said. “We held our nerve. Andrew did his homework and came up with some big saves. We prepare very, very diligently for penalties and confidence comes from good preparation.”
The Cardinal has now come out on top in nine consecutive postseason shootouts dating to 2002 and seven in the past five years.
Stanford advanced past Seattle at home in the second round on penalties, 2-1, when Thomas stopped four RedHawk attempts. The academic All-American stopped both of Clemson’s misses on Friday, diving to his right to stop Robbie Robinson and Felipe Fernandez. Of 11 postseason penalty kicks for Cardinal opponents, each one has been on frame and Thomas has saved six.
Stanford, 6-2-1 all-time in the quarterfinals, is now 7-1-4 in its last 12 against top-10 teams. Clemson was seeded second in the NCAA tournament and ranked No. 3 in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll.
The win bore many Stanford signatures of past postseason triumphs: stalwart defense, opportunistic offense and some set piece magic from its veterans.
The Cardinal went up 1-0 in the 35th minute on a Tanner Beason header off a Derek Waldeck corner kick. Beason, the MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist who missed eight games earlier this season due to injury, has accounted for two of Stanford’s four goals this postseason and is tied for third on the team with five scores in just 13 matches.
The game’s first great chance came in the 22nd minute when Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Ousseni Bouda cut inside and barreled his rocket off the bar.
“He almost took the goal out of its post,” Gunn added “He hit the crossbar with such venom. I was positive it was going in.”
Stanford’s offense did what it needed to do but it was its trademark defense that sent the team to its seventh College Cup. Clemson came into the night leading the NCAA in every major offensive category, averaging 3.29 goals per game and 3.48 assists per game, but only found one goal on a Mohamed Seye header in the 69th minute.
“We were trying to find ways to open them, but they were dogged defensively and electrifying on the counterattack,” Gunn said. “They built really well and were able to have a lot of possession and a lot of the territorial advantage. Clemson played a fantastic game and asked every question you could, but I felt our entire team defended so well. We felt that if we could defend well, we’d create our moments. We were going to have to roll our sleeves up and really dig in. Our guys were warriors out there.”
Thomas was only forced into three saves in the game’s 110 minutes, but nothing out of the ordinary. Late in the first overtime, Robinson lined up for a free kick with Tiger teammates on the edge of the wall that looked like they were going to break and create a shooting lane, but Thomas didn’t cheat, stayed to his side and made the save.
Stanford was forced to play without redshirt sophomore striker Zach Ryan who is tied for the team lead with six goals. Ryan was fouled early on and unable to return.
The Cardinal started four freshmen and Gabe Segal came off the bench to play 60 minutes.
“In life you don’t know what you don’t know,” Gunn said of his young players. “We don’t know how people are going to respond until they’re put into those situations. We support everybody who is on the pitch. If someone goes down, the next man up is ready.”
Stanford will stay in the east to prepare for the College Cup instead of traversing the country twice in one week.