The University of Washington and Stanford are both well-disciplined teams that don’t give chances away on the defensive side of the field.
With the Huskies and Cardinal meeting in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, it turned into a defensive chess match, both teams waiting to pounce on any mistake made by the opposition.
In the end, it came down to a flip-throw by Michael Harris to find Sounders FC Academy product Ian Lange for the lone goal of the match to send the Huskies into the Elite 8 for the first time in school history, topping Stanford 1-0 at Husky Soccer Field.
“It’s two teams that don’t like to give up much,” UW Head Coach Jamie Clark said. “They’re the hardest team we played all year and we snuck away with three wins. It’s been a great year and hopefully it’s not over.”
UW will host No. 7-seed New Mexico on Saturday at 5 pm PT at Husky Soccer Field after the Lobos got past Penn State, 2-0, on Sunday.
Neither team was able to get much out of the game playing the ball on the ground, so it quickly turned into a game of inches in the limited opportunities that each team had.
In the first half, the two teams combined for only five shots, though UW was able to put Stanford under pressure with the long throws of Harris, who leads the Huskies with 10 assists on the season, many coming via the flip throw.
Time after time, he put the ball into the box, putting his teammates in position to put the Huskies into the lead and for 84 minutes, Stanford was up to the task.
In the 10 minutes leading up to the goal, though, Stanford looked to hand the Huskies their first home loss in 12 matches this season through Sounders FC Academy products Aaron Kovar and Jordan Morris.
In the 75th minute, Kovar juked up the left side and gained an inch of space to curl a shot toward the net of Ryan Herman, himself a Sounders FC Academy alum, missing just beyond the bar after taking a slight deflection. Five minutes later, Morris found some room in the box for his own scoring chance, but blasted his shot over the bar to keep the match scoreless.
That left the door open for Harris and Lange capitalized.
In the 85th minute, Harris rocketed a throw in from the left side, finding Lange at the far post for a header that snuck past Stanford goalkeeper Drew Hutchins for the 1-0 lead.
“I was looking to just keep it away from their goalie. He did a great job today punching balls away, catching them and making it tough for us to get any attack off of it,” said Harris, who played for the Sounders FC U-23s in the summer. “Ian just came in at the perfect time to head it away.”
It was a great moment for Lange, who missed over a month of the season with a knee injury, but came up when he needed to with four goals on the season.
“I just drifted to the back post so I could attack it and I was in the right spot at the right time,” said Lange, adding that the Huskies aren’t concerned with skeptical views of the flip-throw technique. “We’ll take the win.”
After coming back from the knee injury, Lange found that fellow Sounders FC Academy product Michael Gallagher was starting in his place. That didn’t deter Lange, and his team-first attitude has come to embody the Huskies in their 16-1-4 season.
“It’s a credit to him for not hanging his head and saying, ‘When I get my chance I’m going to make good with it every time’,” Clark said. “We just enjoy the moment. It’s a big moment, a big situation, but we just enjoy it. I really, really hope we can get one final week out of it. That would be something special for them.”
The Huskies are now 10-0-2 at Husky Soccer Field and are the top team remaining in the tournament after No. 1 seed UCLA lost to UConn in a shootout.
UW’s roster features seven players with experience in the Sounders FC Academy.
MORRIS AND KOVAR OUSTED
The win for UW meant the end of the season for Morris and Kovar, ending a great late-season run for the Cardinal, fueled by an overtime winner by Kovar in the final game of the year against Cal to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Morris finished his freshman season with six goals and seven assists and First Team All Pac-12 honors.
“He’s got some unbelievable ability,” said Stanford Head Coach Jeremy Gunn. “He’s an exciting player. The more he matures the more he’ll learn the little nuances to keep getting better all the time. His biggest asset is that he’s extremely humble. When you keep your feet on the ground like that, you’re always going to keep improving.”
Kovar was an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 after notching two goals and six assists in his sophomore season, following up his Freshman of the Year campaign that saw him tally three goals and two assists.
“Jordan and Aaron are great guys,” Gunn said. “They’ve got bright, bright futures ahead of them. They’re good people to work with.”
Stanford finished the season at 10-7-4.
OKOLI’S SEASON ENDS AT WAKE FOREST
Another stellar season for Sounders FC Academy alum Sean Okoli came to a close on Sunday, too, with Wake Forest falling 4-2 to Notre Dame in the Round of 16.
Okoli assisted on Wake Forest’s second goal of the match, which knotted things up at 2-2 in the 62nd minute. Notre Dame scored in the 70th minute, then again in the 74th minute to put away the Demon Deacons, though.
Okoli, a junior from Federal Way, finished the year with nine goals and three assists for 10-6-5 Wake Forest. He now has 24 goals and nine assists in his Demon Deacon career.