Coastal redwoods grow at a rate of 12 inches per year. The growth might seem marginal, but as No. 18 Stanford proved in Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Cal men’s soccer team, games are lost and won in inches.
Inches defined the first half — setting up the Cardinal with immediate control of the midfield and a concrete backline determined to keep Cal strikers Shinya Kadono and Alonzo Del Mundo reigned in. Stanford outshot the Bears 8-2 in the first 45 minutes of play, as Kadono was unable to extend his season-long five-game scoring streak.
Inches separated Simon Lekressner’s ball from the net in the 10th minute. Returning from a two-game absence due to injury, Lekressner provided the Bears’ initial chances against their archrivals and remained crucial throughout the rest of the game, funneling the ball into the attacking third.
Stanford forward Amir Bashti found inches of open space in the 27th minute when sharp touches between Andrew Aprahamian and Charlie Wehan in front of the net offset Cal’s defenders, perfectly sending the ball past a crowded box into the net.
The games of inches continued to haunt the Bears, when defensive midfielder Sam Junqua’s hand found itself too close to the ball in the box, resulting in Tanner Beason extending the Cardinal’s lead off a penalty kick in the 33rd minute.
“We were a little bit passive in the beginning of the game and gave up an early goal and then the second one on a penalty, which was unfortunate,” said head coach Kevin Grimes. “We need to be a little bit better being on our front foot and being more aggressive in our attacks.”
From the 20th minute to the end of the half, Cal was in a constant state of recovery and reaction. The lack of communication, unfinished passes and jumbled spacing resulted in the Bears trailing by two at the end of the half.
Cal returned to the field in the second half determined to get itself back in the game. Redshirt junior Noah Texter replaced Drake Callender as the goalkeeper, and the Bears broke the Cardinal defense by way of midfielders Sam Ebstein and Taylor Davila.
“The biggest thing I did today was just switching the ball and being calm on it,” Davila said. “In the second half, I played deeper, which allowed me to have more space and time on the ball that allowed me to break their defense.”
The inches gained turned into feet, as the Bears twice reduced Stanford’s lead to one goal.
Cal’s first mark on the scoreboard came from a Stanford own goal when Cardinal defender Adam Mosharrafa sought to clear Lekressner’s high cross but mistakenly sent the ball into his own net in the 54th minute.
A series of opportunities followed the movement between Ebstein and Kadono that could have knotted the game, yet the Bears were unable to capitalize.
Stanford withstood Cal’s aggressive push early in the second half, and in the 68th minute, the Cardinal again bested the Bears on midfielder Derek Waldeck’s corner. Forwards crashed the box from the left side, and Beason recorded his second goal of the game.
Ebstein returned the favor in the 76th minute, rebounding a shot from Tommy Williamson into the Cardinal net.
“Tommy made a really nice run down left, cut in and made a really nice shot off post,” Ebstein said. “The goalie fumbled it, and I was just right there.”
Stanford, however, capitalized on the final open inches of the game, as redshirt freshman Zach Ryan propelled a high shot above Texter’s head, putting the game out of reach from a Bears team, which struggled to contain opposing attackers all game long.
“The players and the attack were a lot more aggressive, and they seemed to have a lot more confidence than they did in the first half,” Grimes said. “If we can build off that second half going into the next seven games, I think we can do well.”
Alicia Sadowski covers men’s soccer. Contact her at [email protected].