If you take a look at the Men’s D1 soccer rankings, the Pacific 12 might be the SEC West of Men’s football. The Washington Huskies are BR-1, the UCLA Bruins sit right behind them at BR-2, and the Cal Bears are BR-6.
While the Cardinal are 8-2-0 overall and off to its best start since winning nine of its first 10 games in 2002, the schedule makers did not do them any favors for the rest of the season. Stanford won seven matches in a row before falling on the road to Washington 3-1. While that might not be considered a bad loss, the Cardinal are just getting into the toughest part of there season. Stanford still faces UCLA, Cal, and Oregon State before the regular season is complete in a month. Not to mention, the Cardinal will get a visit from Washington in Palo Alto Nov. 7th.
If Stanford wants to be the best in the conference, they certainly have the opportunity to prove themselves. Head Coach Jeremy Gunn, in is third season at Stanford, guided the Cardinal to a 10-7-4 record in 2013 and the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009. Stanford reached the round of 16 before falling to Washington 1-0. Something tells me Gunn and his team would love to knock off the Huskies at home this year.
If that is to occur, much of it will rely on junior Brandon Vincent and redshirt-junior Eric Verso. Vincent leads the team with five goals and 11 points, while Verso combines a balanced line of three goals and three assists. They may need to pick up a Cardinal offense moving forward that only averages 1.90 goals per game, only a goal over more than much of it’s competition that has yet to come inside the conference.
In it’s own goal, Andrew Epstein will see no breaks. A sophomore, Epstein has started all ten games heading into a marquee matchup with UCLA. Epstein did not see any time as a freshman, but has come on strong as the Cardinal keeper to record 28 saves, good for a .757 save percentage.
Epstein has seen an average of ten shots a game come his way, but will likely see more as the conference schedule starts to roll. His play will be critical in the Cardinal moving up in the Pac 12 and it’s place in the NCAA tournament if they manage a way to be selected.
It should be quite the wild ride in Palo Alto, and the Cardinal have a full deck ahead of them to prove their worth. Get ready to fasten your seatbelts Stanford.