TEMPE, Ariz. — Despite nursing a 1-0 lead with 13 minutes left in regulation, the Arizona soccer team lost 2-1 to No. 24 UCF on Friday at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium.
The Knights tied the game in the 78th minute and then scored in the 85th minute to complete a rousing comeback in the triple-digit heat.
“Honestly, we just didn’t perform up to the level (that we’re capable of) today,” UA head coach Tony Amato said. “UCF is a good team and they outplayed us in the second half, but we’re up a goal with 13 minutes to go. We gotta be able to see that out. I know we’re capable of doing that.”
After both teams had one shot on goal in the first half, UCF controlled the final 45 minutes of the match, outshooting the Wildcats 16-2 in the second period.
However, after UCF had a shot slam off the crossbar and a couple blown breakaways, Arizona got on the board first.
In the 66th minute, UA freshman Amanda Porter shifted to ball across the pitch to Cali Crisler near the left side of the box, and the left-footed Crisler promptly crossed it to Gabi Stoian, whose shot from five yards out easily cleared UCF keeper Vera Varis.
“It was a perfect ball behind the defense, and no one was on me and I found the back of the net,” said Stoian, who tallied the 26th goal of her career, placing her six goals shy of tying the school’s all-time record.
Amato thought Arizona was fortunate to be ahead, but was not necessarily surprised that Crisler and Stoian, seniors and roommates, were able to give the Wildcats a late lead.
“I know they're capable of that at any moment,” Amato said. “We could be struggling worse than that and I know those two are capable of grabbing a goal for us.”
UCF immediately countered, though, and Kayla Adamek notched the equalizer for UCF a few moments later.
In the 78th minute, UA goalkeeper Lainey Burdett came off her line and made a save on a point blank shot by Christine Creighton, but the deflection rolled to Adamek who collected it and punched it into the vacant net.
It was the first goal Arizona had allowed this season, but seven minutes later UCF tallied another one when Madison Murnin delivered the game-winner from just inside the 18-yard box.
It was the freshman’s first career goal.
“We were struggling and we just couldn’t find a way to stop the bleeding,” Amato said. “Once they grabbed the first goal, it felt like we couldn’t regroup. And we’re going to have to learn from that and get better.”
Arizona used 20 players in the match because of the 109-degree heat, and forwards Jada Talley and Taryn Siegele made their Arizona debuts, but the Wildcats were still drained in the second half when Amato said UCF “started to find some seams.”
“You would’ve thought that would’ve helped us late in the game,” Amato said of UA’s substitution patterns. “Up 1-0 and I’ve played 20 people in the first half ... at that point you think we’d be able to be fresh and grind it out and block some stuff and defend hard and we weren’t able to do that.”
The problem? Too many Wildcats had off games.
“You can maybe have one or two (play poorly) in a game like that,” Amato said. “If you have more than two, it’s trouble.”
UA’s loss was reminiscent of several games in the 2016 season when the Wildcats dropped six games by one goal, and finished 9-9-1, just missing the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a good lesson for us to learn this season,” Crisler said. “Just because we go up, we can’t settle knowing that we went ahead. We need to continue to work hard and get another goal. Anything can happen with that much time left.”
Arizona (1-1-1) has a quick turnaround as they’ll face Boston University (1-3) in their second, and final, match in the Sun Devil Desert Classic in Tempe on Sunday.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. MST and it will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.
“When you drop one, you can’t let it crush your whole season, especially early,” Amato said. “So we’ll bounce back and we’ll find a way to win.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire