The Biggest Stage In College Soccer
The margin for error is slight if not non-existent when the stage is the College Cup, the stakes are high not to mention the pressure, and the top teams in the country tangle with each other. That is among the reasons why defense wins championships in all sports. It is true that the failure to take advantage of the scoring opportunities that come a team’s way can be harmful and clearly have a bearing on the outcome of a game. You have to score to win and at this stage no team enters a contest hoping for a scoreless contest that must be decided by a penalty kick shootout. However, that does not change the fact that a breakdown on the defensive side of the ball can be deadly and totally change the pace of a game.
Sometimes a Cinderella team finds a golden slipper down the home stretch of the season and plays their way into the coveted final four. That was not the case this year as four blue bloods of college soccer (Stanford, Akron, North Carolina and Indiana) advanced to the coveted College Cup at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia. All have offensive firepower and seek to unleash it.
Only Two Left Standing
Only Stanford (18-2-2) and Indiana (18-0-6) now remain standing on the road to the 2017 National Championship. They will face each other on Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET) in the biggest game of the 2017 College Soccer Season.
Stanford topped Akron 2-0 on Friday night to advance. The Cardinal once again executed their game plan to near perfection by halting a very potent Akron attack by totally containing Zip forwards Stuart Holthusen and Sam Gainford. Akron pressed the attack but they were never able to come up with the big play they needed to shift the momentum their way.
On the other hand, Stanford capitalized on the opportunities that came their way. The deadly duo of senior forwards Corey Baird and Foster Langsdorf joined forces in the twenty-sixth minute of play to give the Cardinal a 1-0 lead. Langsdorf converted a header, his fourteenth goal of the year, after getting the angle he needed to drive a chipped ball from Baird into the back of the frame. Credit senior midfielder Drew Skundrich with a heads up play when he contributed to the goal by blocking a pass that began the sequence.
Langsdorf stated, “The defender had the back post cross cut off so I knew I had to get in front of my man. I’ve been playing with Corey so much, I had a feeling, he would send it right there.” Baird did just that and Langsdorf finished it.
Redshirt junior midfielder Sam Werner netted the insurance goal for Stanford in the seventy-ninth minute of the contest when he made a nice move off the dribble to create the space and angle he needed on the left side of the box to send a left-footed shot into the upper right corner of the goal. Skundrich was again involved in the play sending a pass down the left side of the pitch that was deflected but that Werner was able to control.
Stanford had a nine to two advantage in shots in the first half and Akron a five to four advantage in shots in the second stanza. Nico Corti had five saves in goal including a couple at close range to record the shutout in goal for the Cardinal. Ben Lundt had four stops in goal for Akron.
Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn summed things up when he stated, “We played fantastic.” He added, “No complaints tonight, the boys were great.”
Indiana edged North Carolina 1-0 in the second semifinal match on Friday. As expected, this one came down to which team was able to get the edge and force the other to play catch up.
The Hoosiers netted the big goal of the evening when senior defender Andrew Gutman found the space he needed out of a corner kick served in by Trevor Swartz to utilize his left foot to slot a shot into the back of the fame in the fiftieth minute of play.
The Tar Heels did a good job of knocking the ball around and switching the point of attack trying to get their high-powered attack in gear but they were never able to get the extra step or put together the extra pass required to create a seam that they could exploit. Indiana remained tenacious on the defensive side of the ball all evening consistently preventing North Carolina from getting in behind them.
Freshman Trey Muse had two saves in goal for Indiana. Redshirt junior James Pyle had a four save evening between the pipes for North Carolina.
Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley stated, “Team defense is one of our strongest traits.” He added, “And, as the game went on, I felt we had to rely on that.”
The bottom line is that the Hoosiers did just what they needed to do to earn the right to advance to the national championship match.
Indiana vs Stanford – It Should Be A Dandy
Stanford’s ability to play direct and to utilize their athleticism out of free kicks may create match-up problems for Indiana.
On the other hand, Stanford has not faced a backline with the combined talent and toughness of Indiana’s Grant Lillard, Andrew Gutman, Rece Buckmaster, and Timmy Mehl.
Two-time defending national champion Stanford entered the 2017 season with as much talent and experience as any team in the country. But you had to wonder if the Cardinal would remain a hungry and focused team due to all the success they had enjoyed not to mention the fact that the odds of a third national championship seemed pretty low. Soccer can be a cruel game so even the most die-hard Cardinal fan had to wonder in the back of their mind if fate would catch up with Stanford as it almost did in their opening NCAA Tournament contest against Pacific which was scoreless at the end of 110 minutes of play and had to be decided by a penalty kick shootout.
But there seems to be something very special about this team that has the chance to give Stanford the trifecta they need to become the first team since Virginia did so in 1994 to win three consecutive national championships.
Foster Langsdorf indicated there was an appetite to do that when he stated, “This is huge because this is it for me and a lot of guys here. Any chance we get to be together again is a blessing.”
Indiana entered the 2017 season with arguably the best backline in the country anchored by seniors Grant Lillard and Andrew Gutman. However, the Hoosiers needed to add balance up-top to an attack that had become somewhat one-dimensional and therefore easier to defend. They also faced a question mark between the pipes.
Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley added a banner recruiting class to help address the gaps but questions remained as to whether freshmen could immediately make the desired impact on the pitch and just how effectively the newcomers would merge in with returning players.
Freshman forward Mason Toye (10g, 2a) and freshman netminder Trey Muse are among the newcomers who have made an impact. Toye added an additional dimension up top while Muse has recorded a 0.23 goals against average. The bottom line is that several of the newcomers have played key roles in filling the voids and the Hoosiers play as well together as any team in the country.
Defense wins championships and no team in the country has been as solid on the defensive side of the ball as Indiana. The Hoosier Nation is fired up about this one.
Senior midfielder Trevor Swartz summed it all well when he stated, “When you come to Indiana, you want to win a national championship.”
This group might just do that.