Arizona keeps its shape against No. 1 UCLA
Arizona midfielder Gabi Stoian (9) fights for the ball against a UCLA player on Oct. 8.
The unranked Arizona Wildcats played the No. 1 team in the country, the UCLA Bruins, to a 2-2 draw after 110 minutes of play on Sunday afternoon. Goals from Hannah Clifford and Amanda Porter highlighted the game for the ‘Cats, along with a penalty save by Lainey Burdett.
Arizona had three identities over the course of the game. The Wildcats started the game in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Charlotte Brascia as the lone striker at the top. UA stuck with this formation for the first 45 minutes, and entered the locker room down 2-1. Arizona played fine in this formation and scored thanks to high pressure by Clifford who tackled the keeper and tapped the ball in to get the Wildcats a goal.
After the break, Arizona reverted to the 4-3-1-2 formation that they played against USC on Thursday. Arizona was outplayed in the first half, but after switching to this formation, outplayed the best team in the country.
UA relied heavily on the counter attack in order to keep a defensive formation, so the addition of the second striker, Jill Aguilera, changed the game. The redshirt freshman tallied three shots and forced a save. Aguilera’s biggest contribution, however, was keeping the majority of the play in the midfield. She did this by not allowing clearances won by UCLA to immediately be played back into the Bruin’s attacking third.
Aguilera has an impressive motor and tracked down nearly every UA clearance and paired very well with Brascia. Aguilera would track down and win the clearance to hold up the play. She would then find Brascia, and make a run off of her.
This 4-3-1-2 is very similar to the formation that the US Men’s National Team played in their 4-0 win over Panama on Friday, and the pairing of Brascia and Aguilera is very similar to the pairing of Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore.
When Aguilera did not win the clearance, she applied high pressure on the ball that slowed down UCLA’s attack. This high pressure enabled the outside midfielders to press up on defense. That enabled Hannah Clifford to win a ball with very few UCLA defenders behind the ball, which led to Amanda Porter’s goal.
Cali Crisler also played a pivotal role in this formation and roamed between the three midfielders and two forwards in the role of the number 10. Crisler was available for either Brascia or Aguilera to pass the ball back to, or would show back for the defensive midfielders, Kelsey Cavarra and Kennedy Kieneker to enable Arizona to play through the middle.
Crisler in the midfield opened the field for the Wildcats and added a threat from distance to the top of the box, rather than the left side. This role is similar to the one held by Gabi Stoian, when she was fully healthy, in a 4-4-2. However, Crisler was much more assist oriented, versus Stoian who often looks to score. Crisler in this role is comparable to TJ McConnell, as someone who is assist oriented, moves freely, and is a threat to score.
UA moved to a 5-3-2 after Porter scored the equalizer. Leah Carillo subbed on for Crisler, and played with Samantha Falasco and Brandi Park in the central defense. Arizona showed a determination to maintain the draw by adding a defender at the price of the offensive playmaker.
UCLA dictated play for the remainder of the game after the ‘Cats retreated into a five back, which is expected whenever a team takes removes a midfielder. Arizona did just enough to keep the ball out of the back of their own net for the remaining of the game.
Burdett had a huge hand in preserving the draw. She made eight saves including a penalty kick. Burdett dove across the face of the goal and punched a ball over the cross bar.
Burdett made another fingertip save getting just enough of the ball to force a deflection off the post.
Follow Max Cohen on Twitter