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Arizona soccer faces Oregon State in Corvallis with pressure mounting

The Wildcats’ schedule is softening, so the pressure to win is now greater than ever

Photo courtesy Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats were playing with “house money” the last two weeks, as head coach Tony Amato called it.

The unranked Wildcats had virtually nothing to lose facing No. 2 Stanford, No. 11 Cal, No. 6 USC, and No. 1 UCLA in consecutive games.

“Only good things could come out of it,” Amato said. “If they (UCLA) hammered us 6-0, we would’ve gone ‘throw that video out’ and move onto the next game.”

The Wildcats fared admirably in that trying stretch, beating Cal and tying UCLA, but now the tables are turning.

Arizona will face the Oregon State Beavers — a team below them in the Pac-12 standings — in Corvallis on Friday at 7 p.m. MST.

“Now it feels like (we) have something to lose,” Amato said. “How do you handle that pressure?”

It’s easy for players to be fired up for matches against highly-ranked teams like Stanford or UCLA, Amato says, but getting up for a match against the eighth-place Beavers in overcast weather after a long drive from Portland can be challenging.

“Teams have gone to Oregon State and not done well. You can see how that can happen,” Amato said. “The travel isn’t easy. It’s raining a lot of the time. That’s the game where you test your true character.”

That said, Arizona (5-4-3, 2-2-1 Pac-12) hasn’t lost to Oregon State since Amato’s arrival in 2013. The Wildcats have won the last four matchups with a 9-1 goal differential.

Last year, Arizona routed Oregon State 3-0 in Corvallis.

“I thought we played well against them last year, and it’s going to take that kind of performance again,” Amato said. “They’re the kind of the team that can make it very, very difficult on you.”

Oregon State (4-6-3, 1-3-1 Pac-12) is last in the Pac-12 in shots (140) and goals (8) this season, but has an extremely stingy defense.

The Beavers have posted six shutouts in 13 games, the fourth-most in the Pac-12.

“It’s hard to break Oregon State down,” Amato said. “They have a lot of people defending hard and then they try and catch you on a counter, free kick, or set piece and they didn’t give up a goal to Washington or Washington State and scored on a free kick in the top corner.

“It looks like that’s how they’re set up to win games and we’re gonna have to find ways to break them down. If you score early it feels like that changes everything.”

OSU shut out both No. 25 Washington and Washington State last weekend, tying the Huskies 0-0 while beating the Cougars 1-0 — a successful homestand for the Beavers.

“If we played the Washington schools and came away with four points — a win and a draw — we’d take that for sure,” Amato said. “... So it’s going to take a lot (to beat them).”

Arizona, which received six votes the Coaches Poll this week, enters Friday’s match in sixth place in the Pac-12 and 26th in RPI. Amato believes they need to finish above .500 to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

The good news is five of Arizona’s final six games are against teams below them in the conference standings, like Oregon State. The bad news is that means the pressure to win is now greater than ever.

They’re not playing with house money anymore.

“When you play a team that’s lower than you in the Pac-12 ... you kinda want to lower your level (of play) because you’re like ‘oh, they’re not as good as the other team we just played’,” said UA forward Charlotte Brascia, “but we can’t do that Friday.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire