Our Game Two match up was #8 Stanford up against #4 Akron.
Stanford and Akron enter the tournament as some of the highest scoring team with Akron hovering around 3.7 goals per game, while Stanford sits on an average of 2.7 GPGs. This post season, Stanford standout and USMNT up-and-comer Jordan Morris has already tallied three goals in the post season.
By kick off the temperature had dropped significantly, but that didn't quiet a vocal group of Akron supporters, and it seemed from the start that this would be the game with more action.
Akron held on to possession during the opening minutes, and, when not in possession, pressed high and swarmed the Stanford players, though this did lead to a quick chance for a Stanford counter in the 4th minute that was ultimately broken up.
Ten minutes in and Akron's pressing had caused several Stanford mistakes and turn-overs, but nothing too dangerous.
Perhaps in adjustment, Stanford began to slow the match down and spray the ball across the field more, building out of the back. Akron's continued pressing lead to several quick back and forth fouls, but Akron fans thought they may have something to cheer as midfielder Richie Laryea made a good long run leading to a dangerous free kick,but Stanford keeper Andrew Epstein was quick off his line to smother.
Akron continued to press but Stanford seemed to respond with physicality of their own, and there were several sequences in a row where the ref could have whistled a clear foul but elected to play advantage. The inevitable yellow card came in the 22nd minute as Danilo Radjen was booked for a foul. The next yellow card came again to Akron five minutes later as Andrew Souders was booked, and two of the Zips were now sitting on first half yellows.
That didn't stop the press, however, as they continued to swarm Stanford, who largely were able to avoid being forced into many more mistakes but were still unable to build much meaningful play.
Corey Baird earned Stanford their first yellow with a jersey tug to break up an Akron run in the 31st minute. Then, just a minute later, an Akron mistake in the midfield lead to a tricky side footed flick from Stanford, but Akron Keeper Jake Fenalson stepped up to make a good save.
Fenalson was called on again two minutes later when Foster Langsdorf got through on goal and a good save was needed to keep the game scoreless.
By the 40th minute, both sides had enjoyed spells of possession, but, despite their pressure and physicality, Stanford held a slight edge, having notched three shots, with two on goal, compared to the Zips'... zip.
The first half ended as each half the night had thus far. Scoreless.
Stanford started off the second half with a bit more possession, looking more composed, patient, and probing, and Akron seemed to back off the high press somewhat.
From the 47th minute onwards, Akron owned much of the possession, and much of it in Stanford's half as the game began to slow down. Akron held on to the ball well, playing it back to re-set when needed and getting possession in the box several times. In the 53rd minute, Akron had a great chance to turn and blast a shot at goal, only to have it deflected. Screams for handball went unheard, and on re-play, it looked much more like a face than a hand, with any arm contact minimal and incidental at best.
Stanford seemed content to let Akron possess and were able to to take several chances at a quick counter. In the 65th minute Stanford nearly pulled it off, with Jordan Morris being flagged for being just a hair offside.
That attack seemed to energize Stanford, who spent the next spell taking a page from Akron's early game play book, swarming, pressing, and forcing mistakes, but by the 75th minute the game had settled back into the pattern of Akron getting forward while maintaining possession and Stanford looking to stuff their attack and spring a quick counter, feeding the ball to Jordan Morris.
In the 80th minute Akron had their best chance of the half thus far, as Richie Laryea got free in the area and ripped a swerving shot that wound up just barely above the crossbar.
At the other end, Jordan Morris was almost through again against the run of play in the 83rd minute, but was, again, flagged offside.
Morris was through once more, and this time on side, but Akron's keeper was quick again off his line and out of his box, clearing the ball before Morris could get in a shot.
With 20 seconds left Akron had one final chance from a corner, but Stanford's keeper was able to punch away and regulation ended the same way the earlier match had. Zero. Zero.
We headed into bonus soccer. Bonus soccer!
And nearly 30 seconds in we almost got our goal, as Stanford's Foster Langsdorf got on the end of a low cross and nearly flicked it into the net, only to have his effort saved by a sprawling Fenalson to keep us level at... Zip.
The rest of the first bonus period followed much of the same pattern, Akron possessing, Stanford holding and countering.
Eight minute in Akron almost got their answer as Victor Souto was through, but Andrew Epstein made an excellent save, forcing us into a second round of bonus soccer.
The first thirty seconds were Morris again, using his physicality and speed to earn Stanford a quick corner. That corner, as with all else, did not result in any goals. Not even one. It did, however, spring an Akron counter attack, which came within, perhaps, fifteen feet of netting a goal, after taking a deflection and resulting in an Akron corner on the other side of the field. The far post effort was cleared and both teams regrouped.
A somewhat crazy sequenced followed, with Stanford first getting off a decent shot that was seemingly blocked by another Stanford player, and then a defensive miscue leading to Stanford collecting the ball and immediately rifling in a shot, only to have Akron's keeper make yet another save.
In the 5th minute of the second period of bonus soccer, Akron was awarded a free kick 30 yards out in a good position. The lofted ball was cleared by Stanford, but out for an Akron corner. The corner was... well, yeah, you get the picture.
We soldiered on.
Things got exciting in the 7th minute of the second half of bonus soccer. Or seemed like they might. There was some sparring. Players shoving, a body on the ground, and, then, a yellow card to Akron player Victor Souto.
Akron had two seconds left with a free kick attempt after a yellow card was issued to Stanford's Ty Thompson.
It didn't matter.
Stanford's Drew Skundrich stepped up to the spot first and blasted his kick just wide left, giving Akron a chance to jump out to an early lead.
Tyler Sanda stood up for Akron and confidently sent the keeper the wrong way, putting Akron in front.
Next up for Stanford was Brandon Vincent, who placed his left footed shot into the right corner, beating Akron's keeper who guessed right but couldn't quite get there.
Shooting for Akron next was Brad Ruhaak, who's penalty was poor, but Stanford's Epstein failed to stop.
Stanford's Mark Verso confidently placed his spot in the same place as Brandon Vincent, scoring for Stanford.
Akron's Sam Gainford took his kick confidentaly and it found the back of the net, keeping Stanford ahead at 3-2.
Than, it was Morris time. Jordan Morris stepped up and took an excellent penalty, keeping Stanford's hopes alive.
Next up was Akron's Adam Najem, who stared down the keeper and then tried to take a slow approach before a stutter step, but Andrew Epstein wasn't phased and came up with the big save.
Stanford's Eric Verso had a chance to put them ahead, and did so, sending Jake Fenalson the wrong way.
To save Akron's tournament was Victor Souto, who stepped up to the spot and, with a long run, blasted his kick into the top netting.
We go to sudden death.
Next to kick for Stanford was Addam Mosharrafa, who scored on a well taken kick.
It was up to Akron's Andrew Souders to keep hope alive, and keep it alive he did, slotting his kick to the right side.
For Stanford next was Slater Meehan, whose kick was taken decently enough, but Jake Fenalson guessed correctly and made the huge save.
Goncalo Soares had his chance to be the hero, and for a split second it seemed that he ha, but no, the ball stayed out.
For Stanford was Brian Nana-Sinkham. He made his.
We go on.
For Akron, Pau Belana. He needed to score to stay alive. He did.
We go on.
Stanford. Sam Werner. Well taken. Top netting.
Akron on the ropes. Could Adi Dakwar convert? He could.
We go on.
Corey Baird. Right down the middle. Cheeky. Goal.
Akron. Nate Schultz. He didn't look confident walking to the spot. He wasn't. His penalty was poor and easily saved.
Stanford advance. Akron losing is agonizing fashion.
Soccer is a cruel game. It is beautiful and it is cruel.
Good night. And good luck.