Oct. 26, 2012
LOS ANGELES - Alina Garciamendez scored a golden goal in the 103rd minute to lift No. 1 Stanford past USC, 1-0, at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Friday night and allow the Cardinal to remain on top of the Pac-12 heading into a showdown at No. 2 UCLA for the conference women's soccer crown.
Stanford (15-1-1 overall, 9-0 Pac-12) extended its conference winning streak to 40 when Rachel Quon's free kick from midfield was flicked by Mariah Nogueira into the path of Garciamendez, a central defender who had moved forward to aid in the attack. Garciamendez one-touched the ball past USC goalkeeper Caroline Stanley from close range to give Stanford the victory in the second of two 10-minute overtimes.
"It was a crazy game," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "And if you look at how tight the field was, it was a good win."
The Coliseum has only been used every other year for home matches against Stanford and UCLA, and the dimensions of the pitch fit snugly on a field designed for the confines of football. The result is more congestion and uncertainty.
"It was difficult to open up the play," Ratcliffe said. "You couldn't play wide, because there was no width. And you couldn't play over the defense, because there was no depth.
"The entire game was chaos. It was a lucky bounce away from anybody scoring on any given play. Strategy went out the window. You just had to play it in the box and hope for a lucky bounce."
Stanford did just that as the match unfolded, by playing a more direct style that led to 10 Cardinal corner kicks. But because the field never opened up, chances were parried away in a crowded penalty area.
USC (5-9-3, 2-5-2) was outshot, 25-12, but appeared to win the match in the first overtime when Elizabeth Eddy scored during a scramble in front of the Stanford goal. But the Women of Troy were ruled offside.
However, amidst the chaos, there was a window for a plan that just might work for Stanford. On the free kick, which was taken just on the defensive side of the midfield stripe, Nogueira was to push up high in the box and deflect the ball to Garciamendez, steaming down the middle of the penalty area.
Garciamendez timed her run perfectly, and the play was executed to perfection. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the three players who pulled it off are the most experienced. Quon, Nogueira, and Garciamendez are Stanford tri-captains, seniors, and four-year starters.
With two matches left in regular-season play, Stanford carries a slim lead over UCLA (15-0-2, 8-0-1) going into their match on Sunday at 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks) at the Bruins' Drake Stadium. Stanford clinches its fourth consecutive conference title with a victory.
The goal was the sixth of the season for Garciamendez, and junior goalkeeper Emily Oliver recorded her 25th career shutout.