Jeremy Gunn and Stanford made history in 2015, winning their first NCAA Division I championship, and they are looking to defend that title despite seeing many top players from that squad move on to the professional ranks.
Gunn, who is one of four coaches to win a championship at both the DI and DII levels, has led the Cardinal since 2012, posting a 50-20-11 record in his first four seasons at the Pac-12 Conference program. Prior to joining the Cardinal, Gunn posted a 64-26-14 record and led the 49ers to the 2011 College Cup.
PDL alums Jordan Morris and Brandon Vincent shined in 2015 before signing pro contracts in Major League Soccer ahead of the 2016 season. For the past few years, top Cardinal talents have plied their trade in the PDL, including in 2016. Forward Foster Langsdorf, who currently has a team-high seven goals this college campaign, appeared for the Portland Timbers U-23s, while goalkeeper Andrew Epstein played for San Francisco City FC and Corey Baird suited up for Burlingame Dragons FC.
“There are different paths for everybody, and I think the most important thing is that people are working hard no matter what environment they are in,” Gunn said. “Some of the guys who have played in the PDL have really benefited from it and gotten different experiences with different players, different challenges and enjoyed playing through the summer.
“It’s on them to make the most of it. No coach, no team, no environment is going to make someone better, the individual is going to make that person better if they are making the most of the opportunity. So we’ve had a lot of good guys that have enjoyed playing in the summer months, and more often than not, it’s really helped their work forward.”
One of the players who stood out in the PDL during the 2016 season was Brian Nana-Sinkam, who was named Stanford’s team captain for his senior season. The 6-foot defender from Lititz, Pennsylvania, played in seven games for Dragons FC in 2016, helping the club clinch a PDL Playoffs spot while also scoring one goal. In 10 starts for the Cardinal, Nana-Sinkam has provided two assists and helped the program record five shutouts.
“Players have to speak publicly for different things, and it was funny when Brian got stuck there as a freshman talking in front of a big group, I was kind of like, ‘wow, future president material.’ Just how cool and composed he was talking in front of the group,” Gunn said of Nana-Sinkam. “Normally, the freshmen are stuttering away and by their senior year, they feel cool and they're ready to put themselves out in front of a group, but he’s real charismatic, wonderful guy. He’s got a great demeanor with everything he does, and he’s someone that is just truly respected by his teammates – not just as a great soccer player or a great defender but also as a great guy. He’s loved within the program in all those ways.
“On the field, he’s fantastic in the air, very strong defensively. He’s just a great, calming presence in the group.”
Through 10 games, the Cardinal are 5-2-3. Eight Pac-12 Conference tilts are still on the schedule, including two against UCLA.
“Sometimes you sneak wins when you don’t play that well, and other times you think you’ve played well enough to win the game – and that’s happened to us a couple of times where we’ve ended up with ties,” Gunn said. “Then we’ve been in some real close games where we’ve come on the wrong end of it, so overall as a group, I’d just like to see us keep doing the things we’ve been doing and then hopefully as we go through conference, we keep playing well and pick up enough wins where we’re hopefully vying for another Pac-12 championship. And, certainly, we want to get back in the national tournament and give it another crack.”