Analysis: Arizona's midfield falls through in NCAA Tournament

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The Arizona soccer team huddles before their game against USC on Oct. 5.

Arizona’s record breaking season comes to a close after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Florida State. The 'Cats junior goalkeeper Lainey Burdett's made five saves, two of which were extraordinary. Florida State’s goals came courtesy of Deyna Castellanos, one of the best players in college soccer and FIFA player of the year nominee. 

Arizona lost the game in the midfield. The ‘Cats seemed to be played a 5-2-1-2, which was essentially a 5-2-2, due to UA’s attacking center mid was non- existent. Arizona conceded the midfield to Florida State. FSU built their attacks through their midfield, which was a recipe for disaster. 

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Center midfielders Kelsey Cavarra and Kennedy Kieneker were taken out of the attack by Florida State. FSU’s wingers drew one of the two middles out wide, which caused the other to fill the spot of the middle who pressed first. This rotation left the other side of the pitch wide open. 

Florida State looked to switch the field at every chance they got, exposing those weaknesses and gaps. Kieneker and Cavarra ran all across the field and were left out of position when Arizona would eventually win the ball back. The lack of midfield presence on offense forced the Wildcats into playing low percentage long balls to their forwards. This is to no fault of Kieneker and Cavarra as they were simply left out to dry by a lack of Wildcats on the wings and in the midfield. Florida State picked Arizona’s formation apart, and the two center middles were simply the targets.

This calls into question Arizona head coach Tony Amato’s decision not to start the game with a back line of five, but to continue the game with it. The third center back was helpful with clearances and with man marking in the box, but the presence of the third center back also allowed FSU those chances. This formation worked against UCLA, but only after Arizona had scored two goals and was working toward a tie. The decision not to substitute a third center back off for a midfielder is one that hurt the Wildcats.

These midfield weaknesses were exacerbated by the individual play of FSU. Forward Deyna Castellanos played to her highest potential of tracking back to the midfield and receiving the ball. She held the ball up to wait for help, and to create a sustainable possession. 

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Castellanos effectively combined the number nine and number 11 positions very well. She scored both Florida State’s goals. The first goal was off a cross that bounced around Arizona’s defense that Castellanos was able to get a foot on and redirect past Burdett. Castellanos’ brace came off a set piece. She stood over a free kick just outside Arizona’s box, and curved the ball back post, leaving Burdett no chance. Additionally, Glori Villalobos contributed throughout the game breaking up Arizona’s defensive organization in the midfield.

The final whistle signaled the end of the career of five key Wildcats: Charlotte Brascia, Cali Crisler, Gabi Stoian, Brandi Park and Jackie Bollinger who have all made significant impacts on the program.

The Wildcats finish their season 11-5-4 and broke a school record with seven Pac-12 wins. Highlights on the season include their season opening win at then ranked Oklahoma, playing then top ranked UCLA to a 2-2 draw in a game that included a saved penalty, and a road victory at a then top ten ranked Cal. The Wildcats hosted a tournament for the second time in school history in the opening round. 



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