When the Stanford men’s soccer team deplaned at Portland International Airport, it all started to sink in for Foster Langsdorf.
He could see his childhood home in Vancouver on the descent. As the team boarded a bus to head north to the University of Washington before returning to play Oregon State three days later, Langsdorf remembered playing that same game his freshman season.
Back then, a fear took over once he thought about how many times he’d watched Stanford and UW play on the Pac-12 Network growing up.
This trip, three years removed from the first, felt different.
“It felt a little bit more normal,” he said. “I guess it’s weird to do things for the last time. I just haven’t processed that.”
Langsdorf, Stanford’s standout senior forward, is at the tail end of his decorated collegiate career. The Vancouver native and Mountain View High grad will be a part of the Cardinal’s efforts to three-peat as national champions this week when Stanford (15-2-1) starts the NCAA Tournament as a nine-seed on Sunday.
Last Thursday, Langsdorf scored his 35th goal to break the all-time Pac-12 scoring record in the Cardinal’s final regular season game against Cal.
“He’s unbelievable — an incredible player and a wonderful person,” Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn told Stanford Athletics after the feat. “This all comes from his hard work — you will not meet someone who works harder than Foster does.”
For as much time as he’s spent playing soccer, Langsdorf never saw it as a job. It never served as an end to a mean.
“I was clumsy, I wouldn’t pay attention, my coaches would yell at me, I was kind of a space cadet,” he said. “But I enjoyed doing it, and my dad always (joked) that it was much cheaper than therapy.”
On the final team trip last month, Langsdorf relived a childhood ‘space cadet’ moment. He was tasked with leading the team tradition of being the charter bus tour guide — a rite of passage for players who are natives of a given city on a road trip.
“You just point at stuff and make up random stories or true stories like ‘oh I went to prom there!’ ” he said.
He laughed through a stressful story of cutting school to attend a Timbers Academy training session during his senior year of high school, and getting home despite not having money for a bus ticket back to Mountain View High.
Those stories bring Foster back to the simplicity of growing up playing soccer. He started out playing baseball, but that didn’t last long. Restless, he would steal bases at every opportunity to try and speed up the excitement of the game.
“My parents would fight over who would have to take me to the game, because they thought it was so boring,” Langsdorf said.
He played basketball, but would often foul out, his mom Laura Peterson said.
He was destined for a faster pace.
His father, Dean Langsdorf, was a college soccer player at Whitman College in Walla Walla. There he met Foster’s mom, who also grew up in a soccer-crazed household.
Langsdorf’s father died suddenly near the end of Foster’s freshman year of college.
“It was really tough,” Foster’s mother said. “He had a lot of really good support at Stanford. Nico Corti, the night after we had to call and say his dad died, he slept in his room on the floor. They’re very supportive. His teammates, they’re not just soccer teammates.”
Growing up the youngest of three, Foster would play with his older brother and sister, but their games would sometimes end in broken windows.
“My brother would run around with the ball and I’d chase them, but normally I’d just end up in tears so I couldn’t play with them too much,” he said.
Once he started to play competitively, Langsdorf gravitated toward Camas grad Anthony Macchione and Mountain View grads Ahmon Afenegus and Peter Prescott. Each one eventually played soccer in college, which fueled competition.
“We all just built each other up,” Langsdorf said.
He played two years at Mountain View, then joined the then-new Timbers Academy, which was where Stanford found him. Langsdorf was recruited as a defensive center midfielder, but was quickly reassigned to forward as a freshman. He played behind and beside current Seattle Sounders star Jordan Morris, taking in everything he could.
“I thought ‘I’m not nearly as good as him, I don’t deserve to be on the same field as this guy,’ ” Langsdorf said. “So when I got the opportunity my sophomore year, I wanted to take advantage of it as much as I could and learn as much as I could from him.”
With Stanford, he’s been a part of the program’s decorated run of back-to-back national championships. In hindsight, the first one should come to no surprise. The Cardinal featured Morris, who won MLS rookie of the year on the Sounders’ MLS Cup champion team just over 12 months later, and Brandon Vincent, a starting defender for the Chicago Fire, and the No. 4 pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.
The following year, though, the team had to do it without the same star power. It turned to its defense to carry the load. The Cardinal didn’t allow a goal in its NCAA tournament championship run, and won the semifinals and title game in penalty kicks.
“These last four years have been more than I asked for,” Langsdorf said. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to play after my freshman year, I know I’d get maybe five, 15 minutes every game, in the middle of the season, but I just was really grateful to be playing.”
Langsdorf, himself, has noticed his maturation from a self-described overly aggressive — sometimes spastic — player who could let his head get the best of him. It’s the same aggression that leads him to conclude that Morris, the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year, didn’t like him when the two played each other in their academy days.
“I would just go tackle his friends,” he said, striking a coy smirk. “I wasn’t that great, I was just really aggressive.”
The fix? Langsdorf adapted the program’s acronym T.C.U.P. (think calm under pressure), which he applies when playing to be more positive and not overreact to small things.
A large part he credits to good coaching.
“A lot of yelling from Jeremy (Gunn),” Langsdorf said. “Good yelling. Constructive criticism. If you’re doing something wrong … they’re going to let you know.”
This year’s team returned all but two seniors. Langsdorf believes the team took away valuable lessons from the two losses it suffered early in the season.
“You know when you lose a game and your mentality resets? That’s already happened twice, so we can’t let that happen again,” Langsdorf said. “Like last year, we need to know that no one is the star.”
The future doesn’t seem too daunting for Langsdorf regardless of where Stanford finishes the season.
He’s slated to graduate from Stanford with a degree in industrial engineering in the spring. Before he joins the workforce, which he predicts will be somewhere in finance, Langsdorf will chase a professional soccer career.
He’s not projected on any major draft boards. As a former Timbers Academy player, Langsdorf is technically eligible to be signed by the club as a homegrown player — a league rule that encourages teams to grow local talent by potentially excluding those contracts from the club’s salary budget. Gresham, Ore., native Marco Farfan, now 19, is the only player the Timbers have signed directly from its academy.
“If I go back home over the summer I’ll play with the U-23s,” Langsdorf said. “So yeah, I try and keep in contact with them. I owe them a lot because they let me play academy for them. They also introduced me to some great coaches like Rod Underwood.”
But, especially with limited time left in his season, he doesn’t pay much mind to the future.