On Friday, Stanford Men's Soccer visited the University of California for their final game of the Pac 12 season. Though the two sides finished as polar opposites in the conference standings, this historic rivalry between schools tends to throw current form out the window. This game was no different, as sophomore Quakes Academy product Amir Bashti's early far-post, curling goal from a tough angle was matched by a 56th minute own goal from a dangerous cross by another Quakes academy alum, Cal senior Trevor Long. Trading chances and locked at 1-1, the game headed to overtime, where a 98th minute winner gave Stanford a 2-1 away win to cap off their first place season heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Ahead of their opening match on Sunday, Nov. 20, we sat down with Amir to get his take on his fellow academy teammates involved & to look ahead to Stanford's quest for a repeat of last year's national championship.
SJEarthquakes.com: There were four Quakes Academy alumni in the Cal squad Friday including Nick Lima, Josh Morton, Drake Callender & Trevor Long. Did you get a chance to share a quick moment with any of them before the game?
Amir Bashti: "Definitely, that bond carries on through the colors. Now I play against them on the other side of the pitch and we're all spread out around the country. On the field, we can share a quick greeting or joke about the old times, but its great to see everyone finding their niche."
"That carried over after the [Stanford/Cal] game like we hadn't missed a beat. We're still teammates at heart and best friends. It's always great to line up against guys I grew up playing with. That bond is a real one and it speaks to the family vibe that we grew up with in the Quakes Academy."
SJEQ: You had quite a few battles with Josh Morton on Friday just by the nature of your positions, give us some insight on your former Quakes Academy teammate.
AB: "Morty came into the Quakes as a center mid, but converted to center back and has really blossomed and really found his stride and natural spot on the field. He's a competitor. I was able to play with him a bit over the summer and play against him in college. Every game it seems like he's more comfortable on the ball."
"We know a little bit of each other's tendencies just from playing with each other but we've matured as players and it's always a battle. He's the rock back there for his team, being so confident when he gets the ball. I have to use some of my best tricks to get by him, it's just such a good competitive vibe to play against one another."
SJEQ: Your goal was created in part by a quick move down the left side around Morton, walk us through the play.
AB: "I got the better of him this game once, but there were plenty of our attacks that he squandered as well. To be fair, on that one his momentum was falling forward, and I was able to just poke it around him and he couldn't do much to recover at that point. I opened up my hips and found myself with some time in the box and thought 'you know what, I can take this myself'. It takes a lot to beat [Jonathan Klinsmann], but I hit it cleanly."
SJEQ: Another Quakes Academy product, Nick Lima also featured in Friday's match. Though a bit older, did you know much about him going in?
AB: "Yeah, he's so technically sound. He has one of the cleanest, most powerful strikes with his right that I've seen. You know when the ball gets played through on his side of the field that he's getting to it before the forward. It's so hard to get around him. Even though I haven't played with him a ton, it's great to see that he's grown so much and that he's doing so well."
SJEQ: Moving back to the Stanford side of things, the 2016 NCAA Division 1 Men's Soccer Championship tournament is set to begin Thursday. Being the 5 seed, you don't need to play until Sunday. In the meantime, you'll await the result of CSU Northridge/Pacific. What do you guys know about those teams?
AB: "To be honest I don't know much about either team. I'm more focused on us and what I can do to be prepared and constantly improving so that when it comes around I am extra sharp so I can make that difference. At this point it's 'do or die' so theres pressure added to perform. We need to use it as a platform to show we can keep going."
SJEQ: Coming off of that amazing championship run last year, what'd you learn & how can you apply it to this year's tournament?
AB: "Well obviously it's all I've tasted really [as a freshman on a national championship team in 2015], rolling through a tournament, which is not necessarily a bad problem to have, but really it's just knowing that these games could be the last one together as a team, and all that we've gone through, especially the older guys with how much time they've put in, pushes us to fight for each other."
"This is the beginning. The tournament is a fresh, clean slate for everyone and we need to tackle it a game at a time and train extra sharp. Now's the time to do something special. Starting with Sunday, we're going to put our best foot forward and leave everything out there. It's such a great feeling obviously culminating from last season's run, but each game is special in itself because we know that it's 'do or die'. We can't shy away from opportunities."
SJEQ: You're another year older and another year more experienced. Now that you've experienced two full regular seasons, how do you feel about your game right now?
AB: "I'd say I'm more comfortable with our style of play. There's definitely a better feeling of chemistry with my teammates and understanding each other's tendencies - being on the same page. Taking on that responsibility & understanding how we do things is an increased comfort level to play to the best of my ability without having to think as much."