Arizona opened Pac-12 play Friday night in Palo Alto and suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the top ranked Stanford Cardinal. The Wildcats, despite the lopsided loss, played well, leaving head coach Tony Amato’s squad with plenty of positive takeaways as the ‘Cats gear up for their ten remaining conference games.
The Stanford Cardinal are ranked first in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, with all but three first-place votes, and are far and away the best team in the country despite losing two key players, including Tierna Davidson, who plays center back for the senior US Women’s National Team. Stanford also has already beaten North Carolina this season, who was ranked second at the time.
The ‘Cats implemented their game plan well
Arizona utilized a definite and obvious tactic for the hour before Stanford’s game opening goal; they were going to play similarly to their normal tactics, but on a much smaller field. Against most other opponents, the ‘Cats play with a high press in their attacking third to stop the counter attack and use their forwards as the first line of defense.
The 'Cats did that on the Farm but started the press at the midfield line rather than their opponents’ end line. They played closer to their goal to allow themselves to accept pressure and bend but not break. This strategy looked like a hockey team’s penalty kill.
In the first half, UA was excellent at the bend but not break strategy. They conceded 14 shots, but UA goalkeeper Lainey Burdett only had to make five saves, and none were all too spectacular.
This was in part because Arizona’s defenders didn’t allow Stanford’s forwards the time to both get power behind a shot and put the shot on frame. Arizona’s defenders, mainly Hallie Pearson and Sabrina Enciso due to Stanford favoring its right side, disrupted all of Stanford’s shots and made last second tackles. The midfield also did well to track runners into the box.
The second half looked looser and more open for a few reasons. One of those reasons was the Amato’s lack of substitutions in the first half. He only substituted once in the first 45’, whereas he normally subs four or five players off staggered around the half hour mark.
Another reason the game was so wide opened in the second half was because Arizona looked to possess the ball more and the Cardinal looked as though they were purposefully absorbing pressure.
Arizona looked to possess the ball more because they only had a single scoring chance in the first half. They also played with an offensive minded midfield in the second half, with the ‘Cats pushing their midfielders higher up the pitch and sitting below the forwards on offense.
The defense was terrific
The defense was terrific against the Cardinal. Amato left his four starting defenders — Morgan McGarry at right back, Samantha Falasco and Pearson at center back and Enciso at left back — on the pitch for nearly all 90 minutes (Enciso came off for just five minutes) and all made goal saving tackles at one point or another.
The offense that UA’s back four went up against was no joke. Stanford forward Madison Haley played nearly 70 minutes today. She spent time being man-marked by Hallie Pearson but went up against all four of Arizona’s defenders. She’s on the U-20 US National Team.
Jordan DiBiasi, who scored, is on the U-23 US National Team. Catarina Macario, who also scored, is also on the U-23 US National Team. These are as good players as Arizona defenders are going to see unless they play at the next level.
Lainey Burdett is one of the best goalkeepers in the country
Burdett balled out against Stanford. Sure, her goals allowed total may have doubled in one night, but she also made half as many saves in one game as she was forced to make in her previous eight games. She faced four corners and dealt with all, which is no small feat because set pieces look to be one of Arizona’s vulnerabilities.
This was her first true test on the season and looked as if she’s only improved upon her Second Team All-Pac-12 performance last season. Burdett was in good position to make every save and made some great diving saves.
Arizona looks to recover from this loss next Thursday, Sept. 27th against Utah at home at 7 p.m.
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