OMAHA, Neb. – In search of a victory at Morrison Stadium in downtown Omaha to kick off the 2014 season, the No. 20 Stanford men’s soccer team came up empty against Creighton on Friday night, falling 2-0 to the host Bluejays in front of a crowd of 2,612.
The score line wasn’t necessarily indicative of what developed as a tightly contested affair in slick and damp conditions. Creighton managed seven shots, while the Cardinal fired off six and had a number of good looks right before the half. But an early tally for the Bluejays put the Cardinal in the unenviable position of chasing the equalizer.
“Creighton played very well and took a couple of good chances,” Stanford head coach Jeremy Gunn said. “We gave them the initiative after 10 minutes and they managed to capitalize with a good goal. It allowed them to settle into the game a bit more whereas we were playing catchup.”
Creighton’s Ricky Lopez-Espin opened the scoring for his squad in the 11th minute following a Stanford giveaway in its own territory. The freshman gathered the ball off the boot of junior Timo Pitter on the right side of the box and beat Stanford sophomore keeper Andrew Epstein to his left. Lopez-Espin was again involved in CU’s offensive output in the 53rd minute, when he assisted on sophomore Fabian Hebers’ eight-yard finish from the left side.
Slater Meehan and Jordan Morris forced Creighton goalkeeper Connor Sparrow to make a pair of first-half stops and Jimmy Callinan fired off a pair of promising attempts in the 40th and 44th minutes that went just wide of the target. Eric Verso’s shot on goal in the 80th minute, which was also handled by Sparrow, was Stanford’s best chance in the second half.
“It was a difficult game in which Creighton passed the ball a little bit better than we did, but neither team really got an awful lot of attacking going,” Gunn added. “We had a couple of great chances in the first half…but we didn’t really look our best tonight. To be fair, with the wet surface and the way we played we made the ball look a little bit like a bar of soap, whereas Creighton adapted to the conditions very well and passed and moved the ball better than we did.”
Epstein earned his first start in goal and played all 90 minutes as Stanford looks to fill the void of the departed Drew Hutchins. Tomas Hilliard-Arce, Corey Baird, Alex Ainscough and Marshall Glover also earned their first minutes for the young Cardinal, which features 18 underclassmen among the 28 on its roster.
Stanford began its 2013 season with a tie (No. 2 Maryland) and loss (No. 3 Georgetown) in its opening weekend before reeling off five consecutive wins to close out the non-conference portion of its schedule en route to the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009. The Cardinal will attempt to start a similar run one game earlier when it lines up against Nebraska-Omaha on Sunday at 5 p.m. PT.