Arizona soccer wins home opener 1-0 over NAU
Freshman linebacker Ryan Dunn (25) scores a touchdown during UA’s 58-13 win against UNLV on Sept. 7, 2013 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The two teams meet up again for the season opener in a nationally televised game on ESPN on Friday.
Playing at home for the first time this season, Arizona soccer netted a late winner while just narrowly avoiding a disappointing result against in-state rival NAU Thursday night in front of a near sellout crowd on Murphey Field at Mulcahy Stadium. The Wildcats (2-1-0) struggled to find a goal for much of the game but scored when it mattered most, winning with a final score of 1-0.
While the final was close, the actual play on the field was anything but. The Wildcats dominated the box score against the Lumberjacks, outshooting NAU 28-1 in total shots and controlling possession of the ball for almost the entire game.
Using an all-out defensive strategy, NAU dropped as many as 10 players into the Wildcats’ attacking half and forced Arizona to be patient and methodical when in control.
Arizona missed several opportunities to take an early lead in the first half, with senior forward Alexandra Doller being the most active player on the field. Minutes before halftime, junior forward Hannah Wong hit a beautiful long ball to one of her teammates, who was taken down illegally by Lumberjack goalkeeper Natalie Gilbertson in the penalty area. Wong lined up to take the penalty for the Wildcats but was stoned by Gilbertson, who finished with nine saves on the night and was the Lumberjacks’ only hope.
The final 45 minutes were more of the same, with Arizona in complete control of the game despite being held scoreless. Less than a minute into the half, freshman midfielder Gabi Stoian beat Gilbertson with her shot but dinged the post in the process, leaving the Wildcats still without a goal.
For the next 40 minutes, the Wildcats continued to press for the game’s first score and almost had it several times, with nice crosses into the box from midfielders Jaden DeGracie and freshman Cali Crisler, but Gilbertson continued to cover everything that came her way.
Finally, when it looked like overtime was inevitable, Crisler fired a rocket shot from just outside the penalty area and hit the crossbar, but the ball landed right at the feet of senior midfielder LeeAndra Smith, who tapped it in for the game winner.
“Coach is always telling us when someone shoots, always follow up, because you never know when there is going to be a rebound,” Smith said. “Tall was right there and the one thing that is going through my head is, ‘Be clinical, it’s a simple pass to the net,’ and, well, it worked out that way.”
After the game, Wildcat head coach Tony Amato was pleased with the result, but felt a better start would have opened the game up more.
“Well, we won, so that’s always a positive thing,” Amato said. “I thought we were the better team tonight. We had all the shots in attack; we just didn’t get an early goal, which I think would have changed the game.”
The Wildcats don’t play again this week but return to the pitch next week when they face Texas A&M and Oklahoma State at the Sun Devil Classic in Tempe.
Follow Brian Peel @_brianpeel