The Arizona Wildcats beat California State University, Fullerton 2-1, on the back of Jill Aguilera (56’) and Jada Talley’s (57’) goals, on Friday night to wrap up their non-conference schedule. The ‘Cats finish their non-conference slate with a 7-0-1 record and a seven-game winning streak.
It’s been written before that UA is coming off their best season in program history. It’s been written that head coach Tony Amato has talked about how his team can’t simply coast off last year’s accomplishments, and that he’s trying to set last year’s success as the program’s standard.
The Wildcats are in a perfect position to pick up conference play where they left off last year: on a seven-game unbeaten streak. The ‘Cats won a program-high seven conference games last year, and while that number may be unattainable this year, Amato has his team in position to play better soccer than they did a year ago.
They’re scoring goals
The old adage goes, ‘When it rains, it pours,’ and Arizona exemplifies that perfectly. The ‘Cats have scored 21 goals through eight games. They had 19 goals prior to Friday night, which had Arizona ranked tied for nineteenth in the country — tied with the likes of Stanford and Florida State. The ‘Cats had only been shut out once, and that was in their lone loss. Comparatively, last year through their seven game non-conference schedule, UA had scored seven goals and was shut out twice.
Another area in which the ‘Cats are healthy is the number of players they have in goal-scoring form. It’s important not just to have players that have the ability to score goals, but to have players that are scoring goals. UA last year didn’t have players that were in form. Six players last season scored before conference play started, but only one player, Gabi Stoian, had bagged more than a single goal.
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The opposite is true this year. Eleven Arizona players have scored, and four players have scored multiple goals. Rather than the team leader having just two goals, Jada Talley leads the ‘Cats with five. Amato could field a starting XI with just players that’ve scored. That’s night and day compared to last season.
The defense isn’t screwing up
Three fourths of UA’s back line remains the same as year ago, with Sabrina Enciso on the left, Samantha Falasco occupying one of the center back positions and Morgan McGarry on the right. The one newcomer, however, is a true freshman: Hallie Pearson. And no matter her accolades from high school – Pearson was an All-American last year – she’s a true freshman, and that’s always a concern.
The center back pairing, however, has been one of the most underrated aspects of a good team. They don’t make simple mistakes stemming from inexperience or a lack of communication. UA has conceded just three goals this year. And it’s not like they lack a good number of players behind the ball, either. Oftentimes either Pearson or Falasco snuff out counter attacks before sending balls forward and back into the offensive third.
Falasco and Pearson do the little things right. They keep their spacing well, which was a problem last year, and communicate well (goalkeeper Lainey Burdett deserves credit for her CBs' spacing and communication, as well). Both center backs have been good at finding a center midfielder or wing to start attacks and haven’t had to involve Burdett very much.
The only thing missing from this equation is a positive statement about Burdett. The 2017 All-Second Team Pac-12 hasn’t been spectacular yet this season, but blame her defense. Burdett’s made 21 saves through eight games. She’s made as many saves as her teams’ scored goals. It’s not her fault though, because she just hasn’t seen very many shots. That’s about to change, however.
Where from here?
The ‘Cats are about to embark on a treacherous journey up the golden coast to Palo Alto to face the best team in college soccer: Stanford. It’s quite the introduction to Pac-12 play, especially the large contingency of freshmen that see meaningful minutes every game, because The Farm is a really hard place for opposing teams to play. No one wins on The Farm. Stanford’s women’s team is riding a 28-game winning streak, including 18-straight wins at home. The men’s Cardinal team is unbeaten in 19 straight games and have won three-straight national championships. Stanford’s just good.
So, given the team’s current form, what would coach Amato qualify as a successful trip to Palo Alto?
“Winning,” he mouthed. “Winning, getting a result. We don’t really have moral victories, you know? We go to get a point, or three points, and anything less than that would feel hollow,” he said, following his team’s 2-1 victory.
The ‘Cats take on the Cardinal on Sept. 21 at 8 p.m., on Pac-12 Networks.
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