Stanford men’s soccer head coach Jeremy Gunn announced the signing of eight recruits to National Letters of Intent Friday.
Joining the Cardinal and beginning their collegiate careers in 2014 are Alex Ainscough (Canton, Mass./Canton HS), Corey Baird (Escondido, Calif./Vista Grande HS), Tomas Hilliard-Arce (Matthews, N.C./Providence Day School), Danya Kafai (Woodside, Calif./Woodside HS), Foster Langsdorf (Vancouver, Wash./Mountain View HS), Collin Liberty (Van Nuys, Calif./Cleveland HS), Drew Skundrich (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield HS), and Sam Werner (Bozeman, Mont./Lake Oswego HS).
The class joins a Stanford team that went 10-7-4 in 2013 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, The Cardinal would advance past Loyola Marymount and Cal State Northridge to reach the tournament’s Round of 16 before falling at No. 2 seed Washington.
“We are very excited to welcome such a talented class to our program. We are adding some very special talent and some truly exceptional competitors,” Gunn said about the class. “They offer flair and creativity in certain areas, while reinforcing the steel and resolve of the program in other parts. They will afford us great strength and depth when coupled with a very strong returning nucleus. Most importantly for Coach [John] Smith and I, is that we feel we are bringing in exceptional people who will embrace the culture of being outstanding student-athletes at Stanford. This group exemplifies the standards that we aspire to – they have flair and ability, but most of all they understand the value of commitment and hard work.”
The majority of the class is made up of playmakers in the midfield, but as a whole the group is highly influential in the attacking third along with a high amount of class in the back. Ainscough has been a frequent name on the scoresheets of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) League, scoring in double figures for FC Bolts Celtic in 2011-12 and 2012-13. His 11 goals helped pace the club’s U-16 squad to a league playoff spot, and last season he ranked among the East Conference leaders with 18 goals for the U-18 side. Through 12 matches this season Ainscough is second on the team with six goals.
“Alex is a smooth technical player with great vision. He has an eye for the goal and is deadly from set pieces. Alex intelligently operates underneath a main striker or by breaking from midfield,” Gunn noted.
Another attacking playmaker out of the midfield is Corey Baird, a mainstay of various U.S. youth national teams who has appeared over 40 times in international play. Baird, who has scored eight goals with 10 assists in the U.S. shirt, was called into the U-20 National Team camp in early January of this year, and last year was part of the U.S. U-17 National Team that reached the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship, where he scored the winner in the Yanks’ 1-0 group-play win over Guatemala. At the club level, Baird has continued his goal-scoring pace for Real Salt Lake AZ, so far finding the net five times as the U-18 side sits atop the USSDA’s Northwest Division table at 8-1-3.
Corey is one of the most exciting attacking prospects in the nation,” Gunn said. “He is extremely dynamic on the ball, wonderfully creative, and clinical in front of goal. Corey adds an extra level of composure and class, comfortably exploiting a variety of different attacking areas.
The Cardinal also brings in a pair of midfielders from the East Coast in Hilliard-Arce and Skundrich. Playing for Charlotte Soccer Academy in the USSDA, Hilliard-Arce is a big reason the Predators U-18 squad sits in fourth place on the Southeast Division table as he leads the team with eight goals. The Matthews, N.C. native has carved out a reputation as the club’s “iron man” as he has played every minute of every match for his teams in 2011-12 (U-16) and 2012-13. He was also named CSA’s Player of the Year in 2013.
Skundrich also currently has his club, PA Classics, fourth in their division (Atlantic) in the USSDA’s U-18 league at 5-2-4. Continuing the trend of the Cardinal’s incoming midfielders having a nose for goal, Skundrich leads his team with five tallies through 11 matches. He has also been a presence in the defensive third, as the U-18 squad is among the East Conference leaders with just 12 goals conceded this campaign. As a prep for his freshman and sophomore campaigns at Hempfield, Skundrich was named Rookie of the Year in 2010 as he helped lead the school to the Pennsylvania state title.
“Tomas is the consummate competitor,” Gunn noted. “He is extremely versatile, playing from midfield, upfront, or even as a forward. He has matured into a game changer, who always impacts the game.
“Drew is a fantastic two way midfielder who can operate in a number of positions,” Gunn continued. “He covers a tremendous amount of ground, and is amazingly comfortable on the ball. He can happily adapt to a variety of positions.”
Two players, Langsdorf and Werner, will come to The Farm together this summer from the Portland Timbers Academy. Langsdorf has made a name for himself since joining the Timbers Academy from FC Portland in 2012, going on to be named Portland’s Academy Player of the Year in 2013. This season, he has started all 10 matches in which he has appeared for the U-18 side, and last September made a first-team appearance for the Timbers in an exhibition against Mexican side Morelia. Additionally, Langsdorf has made multiple appearances for the club in the MLS Reserve League.
“Foster is a midfield general. He holds his team together and marshals players around him with a maturity beyond his years. He is tough tackling, simple, and efficient,” Gunn commented.
Werner, a wide midfielder, also joined the Timbers Academy in 2012, moving over from Bozeman Blitzz in his hometown of Bozeman, Mont. Like many in this Cardinal midfield class, Werner has displayed impressive attacking flair, sharing the U-18 team lead with four goals this season. He also has the distinction of being the first Montana native in the modern Olympic Development Program (ODP) era to make the Region IV team in 2010-11. Werner also played prep soccer as a freshman and sophomore, scoring 13 goals with eight assists over his tenure at Bozeman High School and being named first-team all-state each season.
“Sam is an out and out winger,” said Gunn. “He is dynamic one-on-one taking people on. He is equally adept at providing crosses or carving out chances for himself driving centrally.”
Local talent Kafai, from Woodside, will join the Cardinal’s corps of strikers next season. Kafai, along with Baird, was part of the U.S. U-17 National Team residency group in 2011, and saw action with the team at the Nike International Friendlies in Florida as well as tournaments throughout Europe. Previously he spent time in camp with the U-15 and U-14 National Teams.
Currently he is playing in the USSDA U-18 league for De Anza Force, which sits atop the West Conference’s Northwest Division with a 10-1-3 record (33 points). Kafai has scored a pair of goals so far in 2013-14, after scoring twice for the U-18 squad a season ago. Previously with Juventus Sports Club, he helped lead the club to the 2009 State Cup title.
“Danya is a proven poacher. He has a lovely first touch, and can score goals in all different ways. He blends exceptional link play and movement off the ball with great composure in the box,” Gunn said.
Liberty will reinforce the Cardinal’s back line upon arrival on The Farm this summer. The Van Nuys native has started eight of the nine matches in which he has appeared for Real So Cal’s U-18 team in the USSDA, and mans the back line for a defense with is tied for third in the Southwest Division with just 19 goals conceded. Last year Liberty led the U-18 side in minutes played, helping the team to a USSDA playoff berth, and in 2011 helped pace the U-16 team to the Surf Cup title. Liberty was also an all-league selection in football for Cleveland High School in Reseda, Calif., and ran track for the school.
“Collin is a tenacious central defender,” Gunn said about the class’ back-liner. “He is a throwback to the time when defenders relished the role of competing with the opposition’s most threatening players. He is dominant in the air and sharp on the ground.”