The Arizona soccer team will face opponents from all over the country this season — Oklahoma, Florida, and Massachusetts, to name a few states.
But they will also play a team from a different country, too.
The Wildcats are set to host Beijing Normal University on Monday night in an exhibition.
“I’m really excited for that,” said UA goalkeeper Lainey Burdett. “I’ve never played anyone out of the country, so that will be awesome.”
Arizona head coach Tony Amato said the Pac-12 has an initiative to connect with China, and thus it approached Arizona to participate in an international series.
“They asked me if we would play, that day worked for us,” he said.
Still, the timing for Arizona’s match vs. Beijing Normal comes at an interesting time for the Wildcats. They have already played their regular season opener (a 2-0 win at No. 16 Oklahoma).
“It’s a little odd because we play two exhibitions, then a big game that counts and then another exhibition, but honestly I think after those games, we’ll know a lot about our team,” Amato said.
Beijing Normal played ASU in Tempe on Friday and were defeated 4-0 by the Sun Devils.
“It will be interesting to see a team that we’ve obviously never played before and we probably won’t know much about,” said UA midfielder Gabi Stoian. “I’m not sure if we’ll have a scouting report on them or not, so we’ll just have to adjust to how they play and go from there. But I’m excited.”
Monday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST at Mulcahy Stadium, and it will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
The Wildcats will then host UC Irvine in their second regular season game on Friday.
Prepared for the Pac
Five teams in the Pac-12, including No. 2 Stanford and defending national champion USC, are in the top 25 to begin the college soccer season.
That’s not unusual as the Pac-12 is generally considered the best conference in the sport.
And to prepare for the brutality of Pac-12 conference play, Amato has crafted a non-conference schedule that should prepare Arizona for it.
Arizona faced No. 16 Oklahoma in Norman in its regular season opener and will host No. 8 BYU on Sept. 15.
The Wildcats also face Texas Tech and Florida Gulf Coast, two teams that reached the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
In all, Arizona has the eighth toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, and the toughest non-conference schedule in the Pac-12.
Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedule SOS (out of 231)— Chris Henderson (@chris_awk) June 20, 2017
8 - Arizona
10 - Stanford
T14 - USC
T14 - UCLA
23 - Utah
35 - Washington
42 - Arizona St.
“I’ll know a lot about our team early in the season,” Amato said. “Sometimes if you don’t have a schedule like that, you can be four games in and not really know if your team is in a good place for the Pac-12, or what you would need to get there because the games don’t look like that. We’re going to know pretty early what we have and what we need to work on before we ever get to the Pac-12 schedule.”
Arizona soccer has only had a winning record in the Pac-12 twice since the program’s founding in 1994.
However, a winning record against Pac-12 teams isn’t necessary to make the NCAA Tournament if Arizona can take care of business in non-conference play.
In 2014, the Wildcats advanced to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament with a 4-6-1 conference record.
“I think it’s a good schedule for us,” Amato said. “The Pac is always a tough challenge. The non-conference will test us, it will put us in a position that if we win enough of those games, that we could get a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“Ultimately, you gotta win games, though.”
How freshmen perform in their first year of college soccer is often a mixed bag, but the Wildcats are already getting contributions from their first-year players.
Freshman midfielder Amanda Porter had two assists in Arizona’s 2-0 win over No. 16 Oklahoma, and redshirt freshman Jill Aguilera tallied her first career goal in the match.
Meanwhile, defender Sabrina Enciso started and played the full 90 minutes against OU and three other freshmen made an appearance in the team’s season opener.
“They’ve all done a really good job,” Amato said of the freshman class before the start of the season. “There are times that you think that the freshmen need more time and it’s going to take a long time and they’re not ready and the youth soccer program that they came from didn’t get them ready and they need a lot of time.
“With this group, they’re pretty close to being ready and we just have to tweak it and I could see them contributing this year.”
Aguilera’s goal was featured on NCAA.com as one of the “best goals from the opening night of the season.”
It was Aguilera’s first game back from a torn ACL, which forced her to miss her entire freshman season.