Gateway: Sports

He's not a goal scorer, but this Peninsula midfielder might be the team's most important player

Peninsula defender Ben Stanford (11), right, wins the ball against Gig Harbor's Ethan Marshman in April 3 matchup.
Peninsula defender Ben Stanford (11), right, wins the ball against Gig Harbor's Ethan Marshman in April 3 matchup.

He might not be the team’s leading goal scorer this season, but there might not be a more important player on Peninsula’s soccer squad than senior midfielder Ben Stanford.

Whereas Sounders Academy product Keeton Heggerness is the team’s go-to goal scorer, Stanford is the team’s heart and soul in the midfield. He seems to be everywhere at once, wins challenges and 50/50 balls in the midfield, roams back to help on defense and gets forward when he needs to, and above all else, is an emotional leader for the Seahawks.

“He’s just a great kid,” said Peninsula coach Brad Scandrett. “He’s that kid that you hope to have on your team. He listens, he’s respectful, and he works really hard. … This year, the leadership has been big, on and off the field. The guys respect him.”

Peninsula had a small senior class last season, thrusting Stanford into a leadership role as a junior.

“I was just able to find my role,” Stanford said. “I felt like a leader out there in the midfield. The juniors had to step up last year and helped lead the team. I tried to carry that on into this season.”

Stanford carved out his role as a constant, pesky presence in the midfield.

“I just try to be a field general,” he said. “Directing, telling people where to go, where to be there, moving the ball through transition, playing quick and smart.”

Scandrett compared Stanford’s role to that of longtime Seattle Sounders midfielder Ozzie Alonso.

“He’s vital,” Scandrett said. “He plays a similar role to (Alonso). If we don’t have Ben, we’re hurting. We have a couple other guys who can step in but they’re not the same. They don’t bring the same fire and athletic ability, don’t distribute the same.”

Few players on the team have the level of freedom Stanford has. One moment, he might be back defending in the box, while the next, he’s on the attack, sprinting into the final third.

“He’s our box-to-box midfielder, 18 to 18,” Scandrett said. “I can count on that. Very rarely will he get stuck back or stuck forward. If I ask Ben to do something, play the position in a certain way, he’s on it. It brings stability, for me as a coach, I know he’ll do what we ask him to do.”

That level of freedom is something Stanford has earned. He has respect from his coaches, and trust from them that he’ll make the right decisions.

“I really like the freedom,” Stanford said. “It challenges me. I just feel like (the coaches) trust me in that role. I trust myself in that role. That helps my confidence as well.”

Stanford doesn’t lose very many challenges in the middle of the field, either. On set pieces, he’s one of the team’s most consistent defenders. Stanford credits his experience playing cornerback for the football team last fall with translating to the soccer pitch.

“Since I played a lot of cornerback this season, on corner kicks, I find it easy to mark up on a guy and stay on him,” Stanford said. “He can’t juke me out or get away from me.”

Scandrett read something recently about Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi that resonated with him. While obviously not comparing Stanford to perhaps the world’s best-ever footballer in terms of skill level, there is one area where Scandrett sees a similarity.

“I read about Messi’s tenaciousness when he doesn’t have the ball,” Scandrett said. “Ben has some of that fire. If we lose the ball, he’ll get it back. If he loses the ball, he’ll get after it and do whatever he can to win it back. That’s what you need in the middle: Not backing down, not being afraid. Ben’s got all of that.”

Scandrett, clearly, will miss Stanford greatly next season, along with the rest of his deep, experienced senior class. It’s not lost on this year’s team that with the senior class it has, the time to make a deep run through the state tournament is now.

“We want it so badly,” Stanford said. “I think we have what it takes to do it. It’s just a matter of execution on the field. That’s my goal.”