Commentary: Arizona's fast, aggressive approach pays off
One of the biggest keys for Arizona soccer in its 6-0 rout against Houston Baptist University was UA’s ability to open up Houston Baptist’s midfield and play fast. Arizona sophomore Jada Talley earned a brace as she scored the Wildcats’ first two goals on the night.
Arizona showed an impresive display of offense as Talley’s goals were succeeded by four different players — three of them freshmen — scoring their first career goals.
The ‘Cats dominated the game from the opening whistle. As expected, UA pressed hard with their two strikers and wings. Houston Baptist sat back and were content to play a ‘park the bus’ defensive strategy.
Arizona used HBU’s conservative approach to its advantage and played fast with the ball. The ‘Cats consistently sustained possession in their attacking third, but since HBU sat nine or 10 players behind the ball, UA struggled at first to combine and play through the defense.
HBU would then force a turnover and transition to offense. But during that transition, the ‘Cats high press would force a turnover of their own. Had possession stats been taken, UA would’ve possessed the ball over 60 percent of the game.
However, the entire game complexion of the game changed just before the half hour mark when Talley found the back of the net in the 29th minute.
Facing a deficit meant that the HBU midfield had to press up and play offensively, rather than sitting back on top of their defense. This opened up a pocket of space between the two lines.
The Wildcats recognized this space and took advantage of it. It’s how Talley scored her second of the match when, as the ‘Cats sustained possession in the HBU box, Talley sat back a bit towards the top left corner and just found space. Brooke Wilson found Talley in space, and then Talley just chipped the keeper.
The ‘Cats executed their game plan perfectly. According to Sabrina Enciso, who scored her first career goal, UA is still working on implementing a new strategy.
“Back to the [U.C] Irvine game, we were playing a new formation. It’s kind of like three in the back, and Morgan [McGarry] is out here (Enciso pointed towards the right side of the midfield) with [Amanda] Porter on this side (Enciso pointed towards the left side),” Enciso said. “It kind of let Porter take a big step forward, ‘cause we’re looking for Porter. Because Porter has that killer left foot with that cross.”
After Talley’s 37th minute brace, the game lost much of its technical meaning. HBU opened up defensively to the point where UA didn’t even need to play through Porter, the openings just came to the ‘Cats and the goals flowed.
Porter is worth mentioning in her own right. The sophomore played well and looks poised to take this team to the next level. Head coach Tony Amato also mentioned getting Porter into space, but it would be interesting to see Porter play the ten position, which would allow Kieneker to drop back to the six position.
The ‘Cats put together a performance that needed to be seen. Top Drawer Soccer put Arizona in their preseason top 25, but in their first two games, they didn’t look like they should even be in the conversation.
The HBU Huskies were ranked 208th in the country in RPI so while giving strikers chances to get in goal scoring form is important, the ‘Cats didn’t play a team anywhere near their level of competition.
Despite this, it is reassuring that the Wildcats can still dominate a game when they need to and showed that they deserve to remain in the national conversation.