Houston - December 11, 2016 - The temperature was in the 70's at game-time on Sunday as compared to the 40's in the semifinals Friday for the 2016 National Championship contest between Stanford out of the Pac-12 and Wake Forest out of the Atlantic Coast Conference. As would be expected, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation combined with a degree of tension in the air as the two best college soccer teams in the country from opposite coasts squared off knowing that only one would end the day acheiving what both had their sights set on at the start of the season.
The 2016 season began back on August 26 with 206 men's Division I teams across the country in the hunt for the National Championship. It concluded on Sunday, December 11 with Stanford topping Wake Forest 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout after the contest was scoreless at the conclusion of regulation and two ten minute overtime periods.
Stanford won the National Championship after going scoreless in the College Cup and not being scored upon. The Cardinal advanced past North Carolina 10-9 in a semifinal contest on Friday night that was also determined by penalty kicks when it was scoreless after 110 minutes of play.
There will be further analysis regarding the 2016 season and the championship contest over the coming week but for now the bottom line is that both Stanford and Wake Forest gave it all that they had and the result, despite the absence of goals, was a very exciting and entertaining college soccer match during which both teams attacked while also playing solid team defense.
Wake Forest was in the driver's seat in the shootout when they went up four to three but two consecutive saves by redshirt junior goalkeeper Andrew Epstein and successful penalty kicks by Corey Baird and Sam Werner gave the Cardinal the edge they needed to prevail.
Stanford had the more dangerous attempts on goal for the evening but Wake Forest had the edge in terms of the run of play. Both teams did a good job for most of the game of knocking the ball around, displaying effective one and two touch soccer while switching the point of attack, and had good movement off the ball.
In the first half of play both sides skillfully put together combinations as they probed to find a weaknesses to exploit. The Cardinal was at their best when they effectively pushed forward obtaining a numbers advantage and then quickly applying pressure on the Demon Deacon backline in the event they lost possession. Wake Forest on the other hand was more dangerous when they switched the point of attack and attacked at speed stretching out the Stanford defense to create seams that they could exploit.
In the second half of play the contest grew more physical with both sides trying to disrupt the rhythm of their opponent and control the pace. The center referee may have contributed somewhat to the physicality since he seemed reluctant to award anyone a yellow card in the early going. Regardless, he was consistent for the most part and let them play and although the physicality disrupted the flow of the contest it didn't appear to have any real impact on the outcome.
Although Stanford had the overall more dangerous attempts on goal, Wake Forest had a ten to nine edge in shots. The Cardinal had five shots on goal as compared to four for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest had an edge in terms of possession for the evening.
Veteran Cardinal netminder Andrew Epstein had four saves in goal for Stanford. Freshman Andreu Cases Mundet who hails from Barcelona, Spain started the contest in goal for Wake Forest instead of redshirt senior Alec Ferrell who was unable to play due to injury. Epstein was once again rock solid in goal for Stanford with two key stops in the penalty kick shootout. Cases Mundet played like a veteran more than holding his own between the pipes for Wake Forest making several critical stops during the run of play.
Defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce who didn't shy away from contact had three shots on goal for Stanford followed by forward Foster Langsdorf with two, forward Corey Baird with one, and midfielder Drew Skundrich with one.
Ian Harkes, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the College Cup, had four shots for Wake Forest, forward Jon Bakero had two, and midfielders Jacori Hayes and Brad Dunwell had one each.
Both Langsdorf who led the Cardinal with fifteen goals this year and Hayes who was the Deacons leading goal scorer with eight this season played well but were pretty much contained for the evening.
Stanford, who was ranked as the number one team in the country in the College Soccer News Preseason Poll, became the first team since Indiana in 2003 and 2004 to win back-to-back National Championship. The Cardinal under the direction of head coach Jeremy Gunn completed the season with a 15-3-3 overall record after beginning it with a 0-1-3 mark in their first four contests.
Wake Forest, who was ranked as the number five team in the country in the College Soccer News Preseason Poll, concludes the 2016 season under the direction of Bobby Muuss with a 19-3-3 overall record.
Another college soccer season is now history.