The Arizona soccer team was victorious over Northern Arizona University on Saturday, Feb. 20, thanks to an offensive assault that couldn’t be stopped. Star forward Jada Talley has now scored in consecutive matches as her goal halfway through the first period would set the tone for an impressive 3-0 victory. Talley adds to her scoring tally with 3 goals in just four matches to start the season.
Arizona extends its undefeated mark to 4-0 to start the season. They have now recorded three consecutive clean sheets and have outscored their opponents in those games a combined 9-0 margin.
This game marked the first time this season that Arizona was without their star forward Jill Aguilera. She was hampering an undisclosed injury in which the team decided it was best for her to sit out as a safety precaution. Arizona head coach Tony Amato was cautious of giving Aguilera the green light.
“[Aguilera] could have played today,” Amato said. “We were just being a little bit cautious because we pushed her a little bit last week. We expect her to be full go on Monday.”
The Wildcats were in full command from the beginning of the game. They made NAU uncomfortable on both ends of the ball as the Lumberjacks struggled to maintain ball possession and find any continuity on offense, an issue that Arizona’s previous opponents to start the season can certainly attest to.
As has been the case in their previous three matches, Arizona began the match setting up their game plan methodically by carefully observing their opponent’s tendencies then striking when the iron was hot. Talley wasted no time as she made the Lumberjacks pay with a breakaway goal that came in the 25-minute mark of the first period.
The Wildcats accumulated an impressive five shots on goal in the first period despite only leading 1-0 heading into the second period.
In the second period, Arizona put their foot on the gas pedal and would not be denied. Talley had her fingerprints all over this contest as she found her name in the stat sheet once again. She delivered a beautiful assist to fellow forward Hannah Clifford who buried her shot in the back of the net in the 64-minute mark.
Clifford showed a lot of toughness by playing through an injury throughout the game. Before the match, she knew that she would be playing for limited minutes.
“Trying to come back from injury, I was just itching to play,” Clifford said. “I knew I was going to be on limited minutes tonight. I really felt the time that I was out there on the field, I was going to give it my all.”
After Clifford’s goal to extend Arizona’s lead to 2-0, the Wildcats offensive display would not go silent for the rest of the second period as junior Iliana Hocking tapped in a chip shot at the 83-minute mark to put the team ahead 3-0. Her goal would seal the victory for Arizona and NAU’s fate in this game.
This contest marked Arizona goalkeeper’s Hope Hisey with a third consecutive clean sheet. Once again, as has been the case in the last three matchups, she hasn’t been tested at all by opponents’ offenses or lack thereof. She finished the game with one save on just one shot on goal and has allowed only one goal in just four matches to start the season. That lone goal coming against GCU in the season opener.
The Lumberjacks struggled all game to keep up with Arizona’s style of play. They had no answers for their offensive prowess and found themselves playing back for the entire match. They won very few 50-50 balls and could never establish possession for any period of time. In credit, NAU’s defense was able to stand firm for most of the first period as they made several good stops and clearances of the ball despite trailing 1-0 at halftime.
The silver lining for NAU in this game came via the efforts of their goalkeeper, Taryn Benham, who saved 6 shots of 9 shots on goal. In the first period, she made a stellar save that denied a header from Hocking that would have given the Wildcats the early lead. Despite allowing three goals, she did everything she could to keep the Lumberjacks within striking distance.
This game saw most of Arizona’s starters limited in minutes. Amato decided to play a lot of his freshmen with a chance to give them more game time experience against a team that never posed any kind of threat throughout the match. His strategy was a proven success even in the absence of Aguilera.
The Wildcats will look to extend their undefeated start to 5-0 as they open Pac-12 conference play for the first time this season against UCLA at home on Friday, Feb. 26.
Follow Bryan Savic on Twitter