If you were looking for beautiful soccer, you didn't want to be anywhere near Husky Soccer Stadium tonight. A strong, brutally cold crosswind and two compact, physical teams meant the ball rarely stayed on the ground (or in play) for more than a couple of passes at a time. The significant number of Sounders on the field and my Husky rooting interest kept me engaged, but it would have been rough for a neutral.
Stanford's penchant for hoofing high balls up for the speedy Jordan Morris and Zach Batteer was rendered completely useless. The wind meant that nearly every ball kicked more than about 10 yards off the ground was going to end up over the East sideline. And it happened. A lot. Theoretically that played into the hands of the Huskies as it produced an enormous number of throw ins — more than I've ever seen in a game at any level — and with the Huskies that means Michael Harris flip-throws, which have the power to turn any throw within 40 yards of the opposing endline to a dangerous set piece delivery right into the six yard box. But the same wind that forced so many throw in opportunities neutered the throws themselves. Harris struggled with his aim all night, sending three completely over the crossbar and most of the rest into the teeth of the wind and short . . high in the 18 yard box and little danger.
In the first half, that was pretty much the entirety of the game — Harris throwing in balls that came to nothing and Stanford doing little more. The best chance of the half was the only Cardinal chance, when the Sounder Morris sped down the right sideline and got a step around his defender, but he sent his shot wide of the near post. . and UW keeper (and fellow Sounder) Ryan Herman had it covered anyway. The half would end with 0 saves, 0 shots on goal, and only 5 total shots.
The second half was much the same. . infinite but mostly wayward flip throws, but Stanford started to find their chances on the counter, with three or four good opportunities as they broke into the Huskies' end with numbers. Unfortunately for them, none of them ultimately resulted in a good shot as a UW defender was always able to disrupt the play and they couldn't find a telling pass. Herman did eventually pick up 2 saves, but I don't remember them and I don't think they were particularly dangerous shots, despite the danger of the build-up.
Finally the stalemate was broken in the 85th minute when a Harris flip-throw — one of the few that was upwind from the West sideline — lofted past the leaping Stanford keeper and Sounder Ian Lange leapt up to slam the ball in with his head from maybe two feet off the goal line. After that the game opened up a bit and Sounders Darwin Jones (for UW) and Aaron Kovar (for Stanford) both looked dangerous on their respective left wings, but the single goal held. That means UW moves on to the Elite Eight for the first time in their history and the Cardinal season (a promising first season for Morris) ends.
With the Wake Forest loss earlier in the evening, UW is now alone carrying the torch for the Sounders Academy alumni. On Saturday they'll host the New Mexico Lobos in the quarterfinals. The early forecast is for a clear, freezing day with little wind, which should hopefully make for a more watchable game. A win there puts the UW in the College Cup in Philadephia.