Indiana and Stanford, the top two defensive teams in college soccer, showed why they’ve been so hard to break down all season on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium as both shut down their opponents to advance to Sunday’s national title match.
For Indiana, a 1-0 win over North Carolina marked their 18th shutout of the season for a team that is now aiming to join rare company on the list of unbeaten champions.
Indiana left back Andrew Gutman, a Chicago Fire Academy grad, got on the end of a Trevor Swartz corner kick in the 50th minute for the game’s only goal.
“Yeah, we knew set pieces were going to be our strength and we knew that if we could get one, that’s all we needed because our defense is so sound in the back,” Gutman said in the postgame press conference. “Luckily, Trevor played a great ball and I was just in the right spot.”
The goal was the seventh of the season for Gutman, second most on the team.
The Hoosiers stifled Tar Heel’s attack - which included Reading United winger Jelani Pieters and former Philadelphia Union Academy midfielder Jack Skahan - all evening, limiting the fourth-ranked scoring offense to just eight shots and two on frame. As a team, the Hoosiers have allowed just six goals in 24 games.
“The spaces were tight and with their defensive record there’s a reason for that,” North Carolina head coach Carlos Somoano said. “When they close the spaces up you can’t hesitate or think twice and that’s when we paused. Once you pause you’re at a disadvantage with a team like Indiana. We created some dangerous moments despite the fact that we didn’t create a ton of shots, but we had some dangerous moments in their box we just couldn’t quite get that trigger.”
Indiana will look to continue that defensive dominance against a Stanford team that rattled Akron early in the first game Friday, finding the breakthrough off a turnover from their high pressure in the 26th minute.
Pushing into the box, senior midfielder Corey Baird served up classmate Foster Langsdorf with a looping ball he threw his body at and headed home for a lead the stingy Cardinal defense would not relinquish.
The goal was the 11th of the season and the 34th of the Portland Timbers Academy grad’s career.
“It was really just instinct,” Langsdorf said in the post-game press conference. “We have a drill in practice where we set up near-post mannequins and you just have to get in front of them and that was just perfectly set up for that moment right there. It was a great cross from Corey (Baird) too.”
Akron had two chances to find an equalizer in the 61st minute when David Egbo got through on goal but fifth-year senior Nico Corti was there to make the save and also stop the rebound attempt from Niko De Vera.
Stanford put the game out of reach when Lancaster native Drew Skundrich got the ball to Sam Werner, who beat former Reading United goalkeeper Ben Lundt to double the lead in the 79th minute.
“That was awesome,” Skundrich said of the play. “We had a good combination out of the back and broke their pressure very well and I saw Foster down the wing and just put it that direction and Sam (Werner) just got the loose ball and did the rest. It was a critical time as well because they were up and pressing so it was great to get that goal to extend the lead.”
Akron head coach Jared Embick, who suffered a semifinal loss to Stanford for the second time in three years, said his team simply wasn’t good enough on the night to knock off the two-time defending champs. As a team, the Cardinal have conceded only nine times in 22 games.
“It’s hard to say it, but they were the better team out on the field tonight,” Embick said. “They came out aggressive, and I think they got us early and we couldn’t respond. I thought at the beginning and middle of the second half we had periods where we had more momentum to tie it. Once they controlled that momentum they could put us way for the rest of the game. I give them credit for a well-played match.”
Looking ahead to Sunday, both programs have a chance to make history.
A win for Indiana would make them the first undefeated champion since 1989 when Santa Clara shared the championship with Virginia while Stanford would join Virginia as the only program to three-peat in the 58-year history of the competition. The Cavaliers won four straight titles from 1991-1994 with former U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena at the helm.
A win for the Hoosiers would also give them a ninth star, putting them one behind Saint Louis for the most in Division 1 men’s soccer.
“This group hasn’t had the opportunity to play in a final so it’s new to them,” Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said. “I thought one of the cooler things tonight was to see some of our past champions back with our alumni up in the crowd and see them at the hotel. It’s a cool tradition to see them support and they want these guys to have an opportunity to do what they did.”
Sunday’s game kicks off at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.