Oct. 9, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - A four-goal first-half scoring flurry was enough to give No. 1 Stanford a pivotal 4-1 victory over No. 3 UCLA in a matchup that put the Cardinal in control of the Pac-12 women's soccer race.
But perhaps just as vital, Sunday's result gave Stanford a benchmark for discovering how good it can be.
The Cardinal scored all its goals - two from Chioma Ubogagu, and one each from Lindsay Taylor and Kristy Zurmuhlen -- within a span of 32 minutes against a team that had allowed only four goals all season. Given the challenge of a top opponent in an important match, Stanford came through in the manner of the national champion it hopes to become.
Before a sellout crowd of 1,937 at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium, the Cardinal weathered an early defensive breakdown and was kept on task by the speed and ability of the Bruins' front line.
But at the other end, the Cardinal found acres of space and, with some talented skill players of its own, took advantage with a rush of goals as shocking as they were brilliant.
Ubogagu, a freshman, scored two spectacular goals to put the Cardinal ahead 2-0 by the 18th minute, creating both on her own, for her fifth and sixth of the season.
On the first, Mariah Nogueira intended a ball toward Zurmuhlen at the far post, but it was blocked by a defender into the path of Ubogagu, who cut to her left to free herself and scored from close range in the eighth minute.
Next, she beat two defenders off the dribble inside the box to create an open shot that she nailed with her left foot inside the left post in the 18th.
"Watching scouting reports, we felt there was a lot of space along the outside forwards," Ubogagu said. "We do that anyway, but we really tried to utilize that today a lot more. That's where a lot of our most dangerous chances and our goals came off of, crosses from the width."
Given the space, it wasn't difficult to get the defenders off balance with a quick move as the Bruins tried to close down the gaps.
"Our back line is so good at finding those balls that if it we weren't finding it wide, we were finding it over the top," Ubogagu said. "And if we weren't finding it over the top, we were finding our center mids.
"Anything was open at any time because we were doing so many different things."
UCLA (10-1-2, 3-1-1) answered within 28 seconds of Ubogagu's second score to cut the deficit to 2-1 on a close-range shot from Zakiya Bywaters at 17:59.
UCLA already had a great scoring chance only 48 seconds into the match when standout forward Sydney Leroux found space in the box and centered to Bywaters, whose shot was tipped over the bar on a great reaction save by Emily Oliver.
"They're a very athletic team, one of the more athletic teams in the country you'll face," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "Definitely, the speed of play was an issue at first. But once we settled in and realized we were fine keeping possession, it was OK."
The Bruins, even with a big deficit, seemed capable of a couple of quick strikes that could change the game, and stuck with a high-pressure style that forced Stanford into borderline-panic at times in an effort to get the ball out of danger.
But the steadying play of Alina Garciamendez in central defense brought calmer nerves for the Cardinal. Garciamendez was nearly flawless, making big tackles, playing aggressively, and even helping teammates who were in trouble.
UCLA always looked like it would threaten and strike quickly, but Garciamendez helped snuff the attacks and helped handle Leroux, who had only two shots.
Stanford pushed for two more goals - on a perfectly-placed upper-corner shot by Taylor in the 28th and a low-strike by a wide open Zurmuhlen in the 40th - to give the Cardinal enough of a cushion to exhale.
Now, Stanford has a firm grip on first place as it aims for its third consecutive perfect conference season, with no other teams unbeaten in Pac-12 play. UCLA, in losing for the fifth consecutive time to Stanford, drops to fourth place behind Oregon State and Washington State (each 4-1).
The Cardinal's shutout streak ended at seven - the defense held opponents without a score for 675 minutes, 24 seconds -- but Stanford extended its regular-season unbeaten streak to 56, its home winning streak to 43, and its conference winning streak to 25.
"I think we're in a good place," Ratcliffe said. "The team's doing well, but we've got to keep getting better. We've got to keep improving. We've got to learn from this game and keep growing."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics