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Offense, Defense and National Championships - A Comparison of the Virginia and Stanford National Championship Teams by Mark Joslyn, Louis Joslyn and Nicholas Joslyn

In the early 1990s, the Virginia Cavaliers claimed four consecutive National Championships.  Virginia, coached by Bruce Arena, amassed an astonishing 84-9-4 record across the 1991-1994 seasons, secured two regular season ACC titles and four straight ACC tournament championships. 

Arena’s Cavaliers were widely considered the best the college game produced and were noted for a sophisticated, entertaining style of play.  Even the often critical Paul Gardner of Soccer America observed favorably in 1993 “A free-flowing, attacking team, with individual soccer talent visible in every position….a joy to watch.”  (Woitalla 2014).

 

 

Presently, another program dominates college soccer.  Under the direction of head coach Jeremy Gunn, Stanford won the last three National Championships accumulating an overall record of 52-7-10. The Cardinals captured four straight Pac-12 championships and set school records in 2017 for wins (19), shutouts (16), loses (2) and fewest goals allowed (9).

 

 

While Gunn’s Cardinals are extraordinarily successful, and once again serious contenders to repeat as national champions, their style of play does not inspire the same admiration as Virginia. Unlike the 90s Virginia teams, the Cardinals are sometimes criticized for rugged play (Warshaw 2016), reliance on set-pieces (Moore-Bloom 2018), and for preferring a more direct, counter-attacking game (AP 2016).        

Despite enjoying similar successes, Stanford and Virginia approached the game much differently.  We thus sought a closer, statistical examination of the two programs.  How do they compare across the championship years?  How truly dominant was Virginia?  Is Stanford of equal measure?   

Season Performance Measures

Table 1 compares the teams on four performance metrics.[1]  First, let’s consider season goal differential.  Stanford improved differentials each championship season, achieving a high of nearly 40 goals better than its competition in 2017. Virginia improved as well yet sustained considerably higher differentials than Stanford.  In fact, Virginia’s lowest differential (+48) surpassed Stanford’s highest by 9 goals.  For both teams, goal differentials are outstanding, few Division 1 teams can generate these numbers for one season let alone consecutive years.  Virginia however is exceptional.        

Table 1.  Stanford and Virginia Comparison of Season Performance Metrics 

                                                                           Stanford                                 Virginia

Metrics

2015

2016

2017

1992

1993

1994

Goal Differential

+24

+28

+39

+48

+50

+51

Total Shots Ratio

.57

.61

.63

.68

.68

.72

Shot Efficiency

.12

.10

.12

.18

.14

.18

Opposition Shot Efficiency

.06

.06

.04

.14

.08

.16

Source:Men’s soccer web sites for both programs.

Virginia’s stellar attack is also evident when comparing total shot ratios. Total shots ratio (TSR) quantifies how frequently a team shoots compared to its opponents.A ratio of 0.50 indicates a team conceded as many shots as it took, and a value over .50 shows the team outshot its opponents. In addition, high TSR teams generally possess the ball more than low TSR teams (Joslyn, Joslyn, Joslyn 2017c).

Ratios in the high 0.50s and low 0.60s are excellent.  In fact across Division 1 teams, Stanford’s ratios are consistently in the top 25 percent.  But Virginia was at another level.  Their ratios would be in the very top percentile today (Joslyn, Joslyn, Joslyn 2017a). 

Moreover Virginia converted their shots to goals with exceptional efficiency.  Shot efficiency (SE) is measured by dividing goals by the number of shots taken.  Though moments of individual brilliance are included, this metric generally reflects the quality of chances a team creates.  The average for Division 1 hovers around 0.10:  One goal for every 10 shots.  On this dimension, Stanford does not exhibit special talent.  Virginia does.  Virginia’s efficiency once more underscores a superior attacking team. 

However, it is a defensive metric, opposition shot efficiency (OSE) that distinguishes Stanford.  An opponent’s shot efficiency of 0.06 placed Stanford in the top 5 percent of Division 1 teams, and the 0.04 achieved in 2017 reflected a remarkable defensive squad.  Stanford in fact held the competition to about half the efficiency level that its own attack produced – compare SE to OSE.  By contrast, Virginia’s opponents enjoyed very high efficiency.  For example,during the 1994 season, for every 10 shots Virginia’s competition created, they hit the back of the net 1.6 times.  A curiously poor stat for a championship team.[2]

In sum, two exceptional programs achieved unprecedented success is distinctive ways.  Virginia excelled on the attack, Stanford on defense.  Virginia scored often, dominating the shots battle and converting shots to goals with extraordinary efficiency.  Stanford cannot match Virginia’s attacking numbers.  But Stanford depends much more on its ability to defend and counter.  Stanford wins by limiting opponents’ quality chances.  They may concede shots but allow precious few goals.  

NCAA Tournament Performance

Table 2 presents the same metrics but for the NCAA tournament games.  Virginia’s offensive prowess extends into tournament play, as does Stanford’s defensive muscle.  Given the intensity of play and quality of competition, the shot efficiency for Virginia is impressive.  In two out of the three years, Virginia’s excellent season shot efficiency actually increased in the tournament.  Consider 1992.  Virginia generated a 0.22 shot efficiency.  This means that for every 5 shots Virginia generated, it scored a goal! 

Table 2.  Performance Metrics for NCAA Soccer Championship Tournament

                                                                            Stanford                                    Virginia

Metrics

2015

2016

2017

1992

1993

1994

Goal Differential

+9

+5

+7

+11

+9

+9

Total Shots Ratio

.55

.54

.59

.69

.63

.60

Shot Efficiency

.18

.09

.10

.22

.17

.16

Opposition Shot Efficiency

.05

0

0

.08

.07

.06

Source:Men’s soccer web sites for both programs.

In addition, Virginia dramatically reduced the shot efficiency of its opponents.  In their 1994 tournament run, the Cavaliers held the competition to 0.06 shot efficiency, a fantastic 0.10 improvement from the season statistic. 

Not to be outdone, Stanford nearly perfected its tournament defense.  Since their 2015 quarter-final against Wake Forest, Stanford has not conceded a goal.  Twelve straight NCAA tournament games - a stretch of 1,214 minutes, 20 seconds (NCAA 2017).  Across the ten 2016 and 2017 tournament games, Stanford’s opponents shot 105 times yet failed to score!  For the same number of tournament games in 1993 and 1994, Virginia’s opposition shot 90 times and scored 6 times. 

Conclusions

Playing entertaining soccer and scoring beautiful goals leaves a lasting impression.  Consecutive shutout victories does not leave that same impression.  How a team wins championships may thus determine its legacy. Virginia produced exceptional attacking numbers.  Stanford produced an impenetrable defense.  Both are outliers, but in different aspects of the game.  Regardless of tactics and style, the teams executed at crucial moments and did so consistently.  Our analyses shows that attacking and defending styles can achieve college soccer’s most coveted title and sustain championship form across multiple seasons.   

The analyses also demonstrates that exceptional teams can improve.  Virginia’s opponents’shot efficiency fell sharply during the tournament and dropped across consecutive championship years. An extraordinary attacking team turned a season long defensive liability into a strength during the post-season.  

Meanwhile Stanford’s strength flourished during 3 championship runs.  Stanford effectively limited its competition’s capacity to turn shots into goals in the 2015 tournament, and then completely closed the door in 2016 and 2017.  It is often repeated that if the other team never scores we cannot lose.  The Stanford experience certainly support this conclusion. 

But can a defensive minded Stanford match Virginia’s four consecutive national championships?  The Cardinals’ tournament runs included 3 overtime victories and 4 penalty shootouts.  Virginia won every 92-94 tournament game in regular time. 

The vagaries of chance may catch Stanford.  We expect Stanford to excel defensively.  But like Virginia, we think Stanford needs to improve on their weakest performance metric in order to keep the streak alive.  If Stanford’s shot efficiency nears its own 2015 number, the likelihood of a four-peat increases considerably. 


References

Associated Press. 2016.  “Stanford soccer going for second straight NCAA title.”  Mercury News.  Dec. 10.https://www.mercurynews.com/2016/12/10/stanford-soccer-going-for-second-straight-ncaa-title/

Joslyn, Louis R., Nicholas J. Joslyn and Mark R. Joslyn.  2017a.  “The Impact of Shots, Shots Against and Total Shots Ratio in College Soccer.  College Soccer News.  February.   https://collegesoccernews.com/index.php/articles/1039-the-impact-of-shots-shots-against-and-total-shots-ratio-in-college-soccer-by-louis-joslyn-nicholas-joslyn-and-mark-joslyn

Joslyn, Louis R., Nicholas J. Joslyn and Mark R. Joslyn.  2017b.   “Under Performance.  Why Some Teams Fall Short of Expectations.”  College Soccer News.  December.   https://collegesoccernews.com/index.php/articles/1136-under-performance-a-look-at-why-some-team-s-bounce-back-and-other-s-don-t-by-louis-nicholas-and-mark-joslyn

Joslyn, Louis R., Nicholas J. Joslyn and Mark R. Joslyn.  2017c.  “What Delivers and Improved Season in Men’s College Soccer?  The Relative Effects of Shots, Attacking and Scoring Efficiency on Year-to-Year Change in Season Win Percentage.  The Sport Journal.   June.  http://thesportjournal.org/article/what-delivers-an-improved-season-in-mens-college-soccer-the-relative-effects-of-shots-attacking-and-defending-scoring-efficiency-on-year-to-year-change-in-season-win-percentage/

Moore-Bloom, Arlo.  2018.  “Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn on why he’s optimistic about the unique American soccer system.”  August 1.  Soccer America.https://www.socceramerica.com/publications/article/79024/stanford-coach-jeremy-gunn-on-why-hes-optimistic.html

NCAA Division 1 Men’s Soccer Championships Record Book. 2017.   http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/stats/m_soccer_champs_records/2017/D1.pdf

Warshaw, Bobby.  2016.  “I want to build an empire”:  How Gunn made Stanford into a superpower.”  FourFourTwo.  December.   https://www.fourfourtwo.com/us/features/jeremy-gunn-stanford-interview-profile-ncaa-college-soccer

Woitalla, Mike.  2014.  “Bruce Arena’s unequaled journey through American soccer.”  Soccer America Daily.  https://www.socceramerica.com/publications/article/61792/bruce-arenas-unequaled-journey-through-american-s.html

[1]   The NCAA does not provide team statistics for the Virginia championship years.  We discovered team stats on Virginia’s men soccer web site but the 1991 championship year was not available.  In addition, the statistics available are less detailed than typically provided today.  We therefore used what was given for Virginia during the 1992, 1993, and 1994 championship years.  

[2]Similarly, Goals against Average (GAA) highlights a distinct Stanford advantage over Virginia.  Stanford’s GAA placed in the top 10 of Division 1 teams for the past three years, ranking second to Indiana in 2017. In 1994, Virginia’s GAA of 1.31 would rank it 109 in 2017. 



Mark R. Joslyn can be reached at the Department of Political Science, 1541 Lilac Lane, 504 Blake Hall, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66044 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

College Soccer Coast To Coast - A Few Things You Might Want To Know Heading Into The Weekend

Kentucky and Louisville – Down goes Louisville.  A young Kentucky team made their presence known when they defeated in-state rival Louisville 3-0 in the Battle of the Bluegrass.  The Wildcats took control early when junior forward JJ Williams scored the first of his two goals in the fourth minute of play.  Kentucky came to play and never relinquished control of the contest.  Louisville seemed tentative and was never able to get their offense in gear.  Kentucky improves to 3-0-0.  The Wildcats take to the road for the first time this year when they open CUSA play on Saturday against UAB.  Louisville drops to 2-1-0.  The Cardinals begin ACC play on Sunday when they host a very competitive Duke team.


Stanford and San Francisco – The Cardinal return to the scene of the crime when they travel to face San Francisco on Friday night.  Two years ago, the Dons upset Stanford 2-1 before a standing room only crowd at Negoesco Stadium.  San Francisco was fired up from the get-go before an energetic home crowd.  Stanford came out flat that night and a determined San Francisco team took it to them.  The loss proved to be a wakeup call for the Cardinal.  Jeremy Gunn will have his team prepared to play.  Ditto that for San Francisco head coach Eddie Soto whose team comes into the contest off a confidence building 1-0 win over UCLA in Los Angeles.   The good news for Stanford is that they have allowed only one goal in three games.  The not so good news is that they have also only scored one goal in three games.  Midfielders Sean Bowman, Leon Schwarzer and Santiago Digiuseppe provide punch to the San Francisco offense.  This one looks to be a gut check match for both San Francisco and Stanford. 


Denver and Colgate – These two ranked teams square off Friday night in Denver in what looks to be one of the more intriguing contests this weekend. This time last year Denver struggled in the early going against non-conference opponents because they were unable to come up with the big plays they needed to prevail.  That has not been the case this year.  The Pioneers are 4-0-0 with signature wins over Washington 3-2 in overtime and SMU 1-0 on the road.  Senior forward Andre Shinyashiki (5g, 1a) and senior midfielder Moshe Perez (1g, 3a) have powered a Denver attack that has produced seven goals while a stout Pioneer defense has allowed only two.  Colgate is a perfect 3-0-0 with wins over Pittsburgh, Albany and Hofstra.  The Red Raiders feature a balanced attack that includes five different players who have contributed a goal and a defense that has allowed only one goal to date.   Colgate plays together as a team as well as anyone in the country. 


NJIT – The Red Flash are one of only eight teams with a 4-0-0 record heading into the weekend.  NJIT secured their fourth win by coming from two goals down to defeat Saint Francis 3-2 powered by a three-goal performance from redshirt sophomore forward Rene White.  White’s hat trick was the first ever for a NJIT player since the program began play at the Division I level in 2004.  The Red Flash will seek to keep their win streak alive when they travel to face Drexel on Saturday. 


Wake Forest and North Carolina State – Something has to give in this one.  The number one ranked Demon Deacons will welcome the Wolfpack from N.C. State to Winston-Salem on Friday night in the ACC opener for both schools.  Wake Forest has a signature season opening 2-1 win in overtime against Indiana.  N.C. State has a signature win over Akron 2-0 on the road.  Both teams are undefeated with a 4-0-0 record.  Midfielders Bruno Lapa and Justin McMaster have been key ingredients in the Wake Forest offense.  The Wolfpack feature a balanced attack.  Both teams have impressive goalkeepers.  This is without a doubt one of the more interesting matchups this weekend. 


Maryland and UCLA – Both of these programs are among the soccer elite but both are still searching for an identity this year.  The Bruins travel cross country to square off with the Terps on Friday night.  Maryland enters the contest with a 0-1-2 record.  The Terps are an attacking team as reflected in the fact that they have taken a total of thirty-five shots in three contests with seventeen of them on goal.  However, they have not been able to find the back of the net.  Chances are pretty good that the Terp attack will blossom soon.  Maryland’s schedule to date has been brutal. They opened the season with a loss on the road to Washington, returned home to tie Stanford 0-0, and then tied Virginia 0-0 at a neutral site.  UCLA is 2-1-0.  They opened the season with an impressive 4-0 on the road win over Coastal Carolina followed by a 2-0 win at home over San Diego 2-0 and an unexpected 1-0 loss at home to San Francisco.  This one will come down to which team is able to get into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball. 


UC Davis – The Aggies out of the Big West Conference are off to a solid 3-0-1 start that includes wins over Omaha, San Jose State and CSU Bakersfield and a tie with Creighton.  The Aggies will seek to enhance their record this weekend with contests on the road against Gonzaga on Friday and Oregon State on Sunday.  A balanced UC Davis attack has produced a total of seven goals to date including three goal performances against San Jose State and CSU Bakersfield in their last two games.  UC Davis will have to bring their A game to return home with two wins. 


Drake – Keep an eye on the Bulldogs.  They appear to be gaining momentum.  Drake opened the season with a disappointing 1-0 loss in overtime to Oral Roberts in a contest in which they were unable to finish the scoring opportunities that came their way.  They corrected that and rebounded to top Butler 2-1, UIC 3-1 and UMKC 3-1.  Drake hosts DePaul on Friday and travels to face Western Michigan on Sunday. 


Oakland and UIC – Oakland and UIC square off Saturday at the Oakland Soccer Field in a contest that has huge implications in the Horizon League regular season race.  Oakland is 3-0-1.  The Golden Grizzlies have won three in a row after opening the season with a 1-1 tie with Western Illinois.  Oakland will come into the contest with UIC off an impressive 6-1 win over a good Loyola Chicago team.  UIC is a solid 3-1-0 with wins over Campbell, Providence and Western Illinois and a loss to Drake.  Senior forward Max Todd has scored four of the seven goals that UIC has placed in the back of the net.  No prisoners will be taken in this one.


Virginia Tech and Virginia – This interstate rivalry and ACC matchup will take place on Friday in Charlottesville.  Virginia Tech is 3-0-1.  The Hokies began the season with wins over Air Force, Gardner-Webb and South Florida.  They tied UCF 2-2 on the road in their last contest.  Virginia comes into the match with a 1-0-1 record.  The Cavaliers topped New Hampshire 1-0 and tied Maryland 0-0.  Since Virginia Tech joined the ACC is 2004, Virginia has an 8-2-4 advantage over the Hokies in ACC regular season play. 


High Point University – The Panthers scored three goals in the second stanza to come back from a 2-0 deficit on the road to defeat UNCG to improve to 4-0-0.  Junior Ilias Kosmidis scored once and junior Bana Ganidekam twice to power the comeback.  HPU will seek to up their win total when they host Elon on Saturday.  They will need to put together a full ninety minutes of play in order to do that. 


Grand Canyon University – The Lopes out of the WAC opened the season with a 2-1 win over Wisconsin and a 1-0 win over Creighton.  They hope to keep what has been a magical early season to date alive when they travel to tangle with Evansville on Friday and SIUE on Sunday.  The key for GCU looks to be taking it one game at a time.  Head coach Schellas Hyndman knows what it takes to win and is doing a great job of putting in place a solid foundation upon which a winning tradition can be built at Grand Canyon.


Mercer – The Bears out of the Southern Conference are off and running with a perfect 4-0-0 start with wins on the road over North Florida 2-1, Jacksonville 4-0, Winthrop 2-0 and Gardner-Webb 4-2.  Mercer puts their unbeaten status on the line when they travel to Peoria to face Missouri State on Friday and Eastern Illinois on Sunday in the Bradley Invitational.  Mercer has a high octane and balanced offense that has produced a total of twelve goals and a defense that has only allowed three.   


Butler and UC Santa Barbara – Neither team has had the season to date that they wanted.  UCSB opened the season with wins over St. John’s and UC Riverside but then came out on the short end of contests with Portland 1-0 and Seattle 2-0.   Butler is a disappointing 1-2-1.  The Bulldogs have a 2-2 tie with Akron, a win over Western Michigan and unexpected losses to Drake and Columbia at home.  A victory in this one will provide a building block for the winning team.  


Rhode Island – The Rams are 4-0-0.  They have not allowed a goal while securing wins over Boston University 2-0, Bryant 1-0, Penn State 1-0, and Holy Cross 3-0.   Senior midfielder Dominik Richter (1g, 4a) has been the catalyst in a balanced Rhode Island attack.  A rock-solid Ram defense anchored by backs Sondre Karterud, Peder Kristlansen, Niklas Middrup and Tyler Dickson has allowed a total of only thirteen shots on goal in four games.  Freshman Roger Penske and junior Stefan Schmidt have been productive in goal.   Rhode Island travels to face Marist on Saturday and Connecticut next Tuesday. 



 

 

 

Can N.C. State Live Up to the Hype? - by Dela Agbotse

Only three teams have won the NCAA title over the last five years. Can any side break the stranglehold and make history themselves?  That’s the big question.  

In the last three men's college soccer seasons, Stanford has successfully defended their NCAA D1 title. Despite a 0-0-3 start to the 2018 season, Stanford remains among the favorites to secure the NCAA title again in 2018.  The Cardinal have been the dominant force in college soccer and have recruited well to match their lofty ambitions. However, after losing a class of players who played a big part in their three title wins, achieving their fourth title in four years will be a daunting task. With the 2018 college soccer season underway, several teams including the ususal suspects - Wake Forest, Indiana, North Carolina, Michigan State, and Louisville to name a few - are breathing down their necks. 

On early evidence, two weeks into the new season, several other teams  have kicked off the season in top gear who are eager to carry the success that they have displayed in the early going into late November.  North Carolina State is among those teams who are capable of unsettling the traditional powerhouses and reshaping the order of things. The Wolfpack led by ACC freshman of the year Manny Perez have started the season red hot.  A signature win last week over Akron on the road is evidence of their ambition to be in the conversation for the NCAA title come tournament time. 

N.C. State rocketed upward in the rankings after beginning the season with four consecutive wins.  The Pack jumped from the receiving votes category to the number eight spot in the most recent United Soccer Coaches Poll and moved up six spots to number seventeen in the most recent College Soccer News Poll.  

The Wolfpack, under the direction of second year head coach George Kiefer, play an attacking brand of soccer. David Loera, Manny Perez and Gabriel Machado spearhead an offense that has recorded nine goals in four games. Their defensive shortcomings from last year seem to have been mostly addressed, with the team only conceding two goals in their four games, shutting out  Akron in the process.

Can North Carolina State live up to the hype?  In years past they have lacked consistenty.  The Pack has often started strong but faltered as the season progressed.  However, the 2018 team under Kiefer could be different.  Time will tell if they can keep up the momentum heading into the winter period.  

If College Soccer is one thing, it is certainly not predictable and at this early stage suggesting that any one team is a sure bet to win the title is premature.  Regardless the Wolfpack on early showing may just have what it takes to go all the way.  

It is safe to say that the Wolfpack are ahead of schedule under Kiefer.  The fact that they returned to the NCAA Tournament field last year in Kiefer's first year at the helm of the program was a big step in the right direction.    

The Wolfpack's match-up on Friday night against number one ranked Wake Forest in Winston-Salem will be a test that will provide a lot of information regarding where they currently are as a team.


Dela Agbotse is a contributing writer for College Soccer News.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.