Friday, 10:00 PM
(1) Stanford (17-1-2; 2nd – Pac-12; WTSR – 1.46, 2nd – Pac-12)
Cal State Fullerton (10-7-4; 1st – Big West; WTSR – 1.12, 3rd – Big West)
Fullerton, Legit Threat or No?
Based on their Big West form? Dangerous. The Titans won seven straight to close out the season, including both matches in the conference tournament. They didn’t lose once in league play, showing that CSUF has been a very hot club down the stretch. But it’s still pretty hard to totally trust the Titans given their non-conference form. It’s not really the losses to the likes of Georgia and San Diego, both bubble teams, that might have me worried. It’s the losses to the likes of Denver and Loyola Marymount and the draw with a winless Oregon State team that would give me pause.
How Much Is That Improvement Going To Matter?
Not much, I’m afraid. While the Titans did prove themselves to be the league’s best team in terms of results and in the conference tournament, they finished just third in WTSR and were pretty close to most of the league’s other teams in a typical tight Big West. The offense struggled mightily at times to put up goals against non-conference opponents, netting multiple goals in just two of eleven matches out of conference. The offense has come around since then though, with Rebecca Wilson netting six goals in Big West play, though two of those were from the spot. There aren’t a multitude of scoring options here either. Wilson, Christina Burkenroad, and Connie Caliz are the only three players with multiple goals. While the defense has improved since leaking goals like crazy in non-conference play, you wouldn’t think there’s too much of a chance Fullerton’s going to keep Stanford off the board for a whole game. While the Titans have played some major conference opponents, its record in those matches was poor, and the only RPI Top 40 team they did play was Pepperdine, who beat them in Fullerton midseason.
So, Is Stanford Really Back?
It looks that way. The Card’s WTSR number shows it certainly isn’t a fluke, and bar that last quarter of an hour against UCLA, we’d probably be tipping them as the favorites for the national title. As it stands, it’s going to take an awful lot to keep Paul Ratcliffe’s squad from the College Cup. The defense has given up eight goals all season, while the offense averaged about two and a half goals a game in conference play. Stanford’s also battle tested, having played the likes of North Carolina, Florida, and Notre Dame out of conference before taking on the grueling Pac-12 season in the league’s finest year yet. Add in home advantage through the Elite Eight, and you’ve got a recipe for a run into December.
Is It Defense First or Offense First For The Card?
Does it matter? If forced to answer the question, I’d argue its Stanford’s defense that runs the show, despite slipping a bit in the league and being forced to score three goals against Arizona and Cal to walk away with the three points. While the other Pac-12 juggernaut’s full-backs get all the press, Laura Liedle and Stephanie Amack have been more the impressive out wide in defense for the card. In the middle, Maddie Bauer continues to be a tower of power at center-back, while Kendall Romine brings some veteran leadership and experience to proceedings. Add in the fact that Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Andi Sullivan can slot right in at center-back if needed, and you’ve got a unit that’s the envy of just about every side in DI. To top it off, anyone beating that back four still has to get past Jane Campbell in goal. Campbell had a bit of a shaky debut season last year but has more than lived up to the hype this year for Stanford, turning into one of the nation’s elite netminders as was expected of her going into college.
But the Offense Can Still Crush Opponents, Right?
Uh, yeah. The big, bad development of the recent weeks has been the reemergence of Taylor Uhl as a scoring force. Uhl had looked like a non-factor through non-conference play, having not recorded a single point. And then the senior suddenly started scoring again. She finished league play with seven goals and now looks like an entrenched member of the starting lineup again. Uhl’s rise has been important since Chioma Ubogagu has been shooting without abandon in the league but not finding the target that much, with just four goals on a whopping sixty-eight shots. Ubogagu’s direct dribbling is still a nightmare for opponents at any rate, and the club has been getting a fantastic scoring return from senior midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta in any event, with the talisman netting eight goals in Pac-12 play. With Sullivan and Alex Doll providing solid support in midfield, the Card attack is more than capable of smashing most of the opponents in its wake.
So Who’s Going To Stop This Stanford Side From Getting To The College Cup?
Well, nobody until the Elite Eight. They got tossed a very soft draw and should saw right through their first three opponents. Neither of the first two foes are going to provide much of a challenge in all likelihood, while they crushed seeded foe Washington in the regular season. On the opposite side of the quadrant, Texas Tech is formidable but would probably need a bad day from Stanford to top the Card in Palo Alto. Florida and Cal have both already played Stanford this season and come painfully close from taking something from the Pac-12 runners-up. But Stanford doesn’t tend to get upset at this time of year, making them a pretty good bet to still be standing come December.