"Without change, soccer will fall"
Arizona soccer's starting midfielder Leila Amini decided to leave the team last Thursday, becoming the ninth player to leave the program over the last year.
It's obvious that the Arizona soccer program is lacking team camaraderie, a fact reflected by their play on the field. This doesn't bode well for the future of a program that has been moving gradually closer to a losing culture since its inaugural season in 1994.
""The soccer environment has been deteriorating for the past few years since I been here,"" Amini said. ""People in the past have brought up issues to try to change the environment for the better, but unfortunately I don't see any effort toward these changes.
""I came to the realization this year that there wasn't going to be any changes,"" she added.
Amini, who has been playing soccer since she was five years old, decided to give up the sport she has loved her entire life. This can only mean that the stress of being an Arizona soccer player comes from more than just the losses.
""I still love my teammates, and I want them to do well because they've been working hard since July,"" Amini said.
""But there is definitely more issues than our record; our record is a reflection of our environment,"" added Amini, who did not want to comment on the specifics of the team's problems. ""It was hard to leave it all behind, but it got to the point where it had taken too much of a toll on me.""
When Arizona head coach Dan Tobias was asked about Amini's decision and the current trend of players leaving before becoming upperclassmen, he stressed that the team must move on.
""Leila decided that it would be best to devote all her time to her studies,"" Tobias said. ""It was a surprise, but we have to move on because she's moved on. I'm not going to comment about last year because that was last year, but it's like anything in life — there will be setbacks.""
Indeed, setbacks can be unavoidable, but when they come often enough they may point to a larger problem. If Arizona, and specifically Tobias, never address why those setbacks continue to happen, progress cannot be expected.
Since Tobias took the reigns in 2003, every Wildcat roster has been dominated by freshmen and sophomores. Amini was the last of six players in her freshmen class that joined the soccer program in 2007, a recruiting class in which not one player will make it to their senior year in a Wildcat uniform.
Every school has a number of players that leave the team at one point or another, but when they are arguably some of your best players, something is awry.
When last year's team offensive MVP Karina Camacho, a Tucson native, decided to transfer to Long Beach State, that should have been a red flag that something was wrong.
Whenever a hometown recruit that is arguably the best player decides that transferring away from her hometown school is the best solution, then your program has really hit a low point.
Recruiting has not been the issue. Instead, the challenge has been keeping the players in red and blue long enough to maintain an experienced team. Having a winning program is near-impossible when a team in comprised of only underclassmen.
Tobias deserves credit for bringing the program its first-ever winning seasons in his first few years. But that successful beginning doesn't excuse the ongoing team chemistry problems that have surrounded the program as of late.
Now the Wildcats are the worst team in the Pacific 10 Conference.
Arizona (3-7-1) sits in 10th place while ninth-place California posts a 6-3-1 record. In the last three years the Wildcats have posted subpar records of 9-11, 6-13-1 and 8-10-2.
When a team is lacking the spirit necessary to achieve the wins they want, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the coach. At this point, Tobias must realize the team needs to have a serious huddle and get to the roots of the players' frustrations.
While Arizona continues to sit in the Pac-10 basement, all the other teams have been upstairs living the good life and waiting for Arizona to come join the party.
If that change doesn't happen, another Pac-10 team might as well close the door to the basement because Arizona probably won't be coming up anytime soon.
And the losing culture will continue.