The Arizona soccer team was victorious over heated in-state rival Arizona State 1-0 on Friday, March 19, at Mulcahy Stadium in Tucson, Arizona.
After suffering a heartbreaking loss to Oregon last Sunday in Eugene, Oregon, the Wildcats decided to take out their frustrations against Arizona State in another installment of the Territorial Cup. A rousing win for Arizona as it marks their first win against one of the top tier teams in the Pac-12 conference. A game that could serve as a potential turning point in the season after entering tonight's game sporting only a 1-3 record in conference play.
Coming into tonight's game, Arizona State was led by the top goal scorer in the Pac-12 in Nicole Douglas. The junior international from England had averaged an astonishing one goal per game in only eight games of play so far this season. A tall task for Arizona, however, they answered the call by keeping Douglas to zero shots on goal for the entire 90 minutes.
Arizona head coach Tony Amato gave commendable praise for his team’s efforts in preventing Douglas from getting into any kind of rhythm, including defender Ava McCray’s efforts in shutting her down.
“We knew we had to be tight to her and she’s really good at getting the ball to her feet,” Amato said. “Ava McCray did a really good job to make sure that they denied her any space to be able to play make from that position and then get a dangerous space in the box. Credit to the whole backline, but she was central a lot and they did a good job stepping in and denying her space.”
McCray was quick to admit the great opportunity to go up against a prolific goal scorer in Douglas and couldn’t hold back her excitement.
“I love being the underdog, so I think it was hype playing against her,” McCray said. “This is a really amazing soccer player so that’s always my favorite game to play against one of the top [players].”
The 20 minutes of play started fairly slow as both teams took their time sizing each other up and trying to establish a better feel for each other. In large part, Arizona nor Arizona State wanted to give away too much as both are more than capable of capitalizing on errors and transitioning them into lethal counter-attacks.
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Despite the slow pace to start the match, Arizona had several scoring chances to put the Sun Devils away early. Senior Jada Talley rifled a laser that landed right into the mitts of Arizona State goalkeeper Giulia Cascapera just eight minutes in. Fellow star forward Jill Aguilera followed right behind her two minutes later with a header that she couldn’t quite angle to break the scoreless tie early on. Arizona State’s best scoring opportunity in the period came in the 15-minute mark when defender Lieske Carleer launched a shot that went just a little over the crossbar.
The way the first period had unfolded, the score was destined to remain scoreless going into the half, however, Ava McCray had other plans.
In the 31-minute mark, Arizona was awarded a corner kick. Talley, who usually doesn’t attempt corner kicks, made the most of her rare opportunity by crossing a good ball that found McCray for a header that just made its way past the outstretched arms of Cascapera into the back left corner of the net. The goal would go on to be the ultimate decider in this match.
The second period saw the Sun Devils come out with more of a pep in their step as they appeared rejuvenated and added more intensity to their play. Despite their efforts, Arizona was able to weather the storm and keep their rival from finding any kind of rhythm on the offensive attack. Arizona State struggled to find any continuity on offense and had no answers for their opponent’s physicality and defensive pressures all period and most of the game for that matter.
The Wildcats’ dynamic duo of Talley and Aguilera carried over their strong first-half performances into the second period. Talley, already with an assist on the night, found herself in a counterattack but couldn’t deliver the decisive goal for Arizona in the 76-minute mark that would have sealed the Sun Devils’ fate. Aguilera had an opportunity of her own to put Arizona State away five minutes later, however, her curler from 20 yards out just missed the back of the net on what would have been a superb goal.
Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey registered one of her better performances of the season as she made five saves on five shots on goal. The Wildcats finished the game with 17 shots, six of them being shots on goal and produced an impressive 11 corner kick opportunities. On the other hand, the Sun Devils finished with five shots on goal on six shots in total and only two corner kicks.
Arizona will look to build on its big win over Arizona State as they hit the road against another top-tier team in the conference in USC on Friday, March 26.
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