Coming into Friday afternoon, the Cal men’s soccer team held onto a flicker of hope for the a miracle postseason bid. Then Stanford came into Edwards Stadium and stomped it into dust.
In its worst loss since its 6-0 beatdown to Maryland in September, Stanford (9-8-1, 5-4-1 in the Pac-12) scored five goals in the second half en route to a 6-1 rout. Forward Adam Jahn scored a hat trick in his last regular season match as a Cardinal.
The bloated scoreboard belied what the Bears (8-7-3, 3-5-2) were able to do in the first 45 minutes. Cal was the noticeably better team in the first half, controlling the pace with its quick passes.
In the 16th minute, the Bears drew first blood. Midfielder Tony Salciccia’s sudden run down the flank threw the Cardinal defense off guard, and when Salciccia crossed the ball in the penalty box, forward John Fitzpatrick found acres of open space in point-blank range for the easy score.
In the 37th minute, Jahn equalized, telegraphing a cross from midfielder Ty Thompson to the back of the net.
At halftime, there was no foreshadowing of what was to come.
“We talked about breaking their pressure because they held a tight defensive line,” midfielder Seth Casiple said. “Other than that, we didn’t change anything that would cause this.”
Within the first 20 seconds of the second half, Jahn took the lead with a header off a cross from defender Brandon Vincent. It was the first crack in Cal’s defensive levee.
“That second goal changed the entire game,” Cal coach Kevin Grimes said. “We started pressing (on the offense) almost so hard that it vicariously backfired.”
In contrast to the first half, the Bears could not hold onto the ball and create offensive chances in the second half. Playing in a must-win match, Cal needed an equalizer, subsequently thinning out the defense for more offense.
Then in the 62nd minute, the levee finally broke open as midfielder Aaron Kovar scored the third goal assisted by Eric Verso. The defense was in ruins, and the players looked desperate to at least tie the match.
Twelve minutes later, Verso was alone in a counterattack with Ted Jones and Connor Hallisey as last cover. Jones and Hallisey collided with each other, and Verso tapped the ball with his back heel past goalkeeper Kevin Peach.
“Verso was playing out of his mind today,” Casiple said.
In less than two minutes, Jahn sealed his hat trick. With a 5-1 lead, the Cardinal toyed around with the hapless Bears.
In the 87th minute, Cal’s comedy of errors reached its peak as defender Christian Dean’s last-ditch save ricocheted off teammate Max Oldham for the own goal.
By then, the match was long over to the point where Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn placed in third-string goalkeeper Preston Langholz as a midfielder. After the final whistle blew, the seniors were left in tears, knowing its last chance at the NCAAs was pulverized by their Pac-12 rivals.
“We were chasing for our season,” Grimes said. “We almost over-gambled. We played the percentages to win. That can leave yourself exposed.”
Seung Y. Lee covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]