When the Arizona Wildcats take the pitch at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium on Thursday, reminders of Stanford’s excellence will literally be surrounding them.
“Eleven Pac-12 titles. Seven College Cup appearances. One national championship,” the banners on the stadium walls state.
“When you look at a team like Stanford ... sometimes it can scare you,” said UA midfielder Gabi Stoian.
And probably it should — Stanford has won the Pac-12 two years in a row, is 8-1 this season, is ranked No. 2 in the nation and, oh yeah, has a “historic” offense on pace for one of the best goals-per-game averages in DI women’s soccer history.
“They have a big reputation,” said UA forward Jill Aguilera. “I feel like we might overestimate them sometimes.”
But these Wildcats (4-2-2, 1-0 Pac-12) shouldn’t. They know they can hang with Stanford.
Proof? Three of the last four regular season matchups against the Cardinal have gone into overtime.
Arizona head coach Tony Amato won’t let his players forget.
“We’re going to remind them,” he said. “We have some video of those games. Sometimes you can get beat by the jersey, like ‘oh, Stanford’s written across the chest’ and it’s important that we don’t get beat by the jersey.
“...And we’ve done a really good job with that most of the times we’ve played them and said ‘we’re coming for you’.”
Amato thinks Arizona’s recent competitiveness against Stanford can be attributed to the differing styles the two teams play.
The Wildcats push the pace, bringing their backs forward, striving to leave their opponents huffing and puffing while filling up the shot column (even breaking scoreboards sometimes).
Stanford is possession-oriented, connecting passes to get high-quality shots (sometimes a lot of them) as their opponents chase them all over the field.
“They’re very in command of the ball,” Amato said. “They don’t want you to have it. They’re not like they’re so unbelievable in this area or this area. They command the ball. They want you to chase the ball. They play keep away with you throughout the game, and they probably do that better than anyone else does.
“We gotta have some possession to win in soccer, but we have to disrupt them. We’ve taken them to overtime a bunch because our style matches up well against that type of style.”
Arizona is outshooting teams 122-60 this season, scoring six goals during their current three-game winning streak. Amato thinks they’re playing their best soccer since his arrival in 2013.
Stanford is outscoring teams 41-5, with an obscene 226-45 shot differential. They’ve won six in a row.
The Cardinal are littered with talent, being well-represented on TopDrawerSoccer's Preseason Best XI teams and in the U.S. Women's U-23 National Team camps.
The names on the back of their jerseys are just as impressive as the name on the front.
“Every single player is talented,” said Stoian, who is expected to return from an injury Thursday after a two-game absence. “Their speed of play, they connect the ball. They know when to play the long ball, when to play to the feet, and they can finish in front of the goal. Every aspect of their game is cleaner.”
Stanford is 21-2-0 all-time vs. Arizona. Last year, the Cardinal walloped the Wildcats 4-0 in Tucson.
Thursday’s rematch in Palo Alto kicks off at 7 p.m and can be seen on the Pac-12 Networks.
Defeating Stanford is a tall task for anyone, let alone an Arizona team that has beaten them twice in as many decades, but Amato has just one request for his team.
Don’t back down.
“If they beat us because they play their A-game and we play our B-game, fine,” he said. “But it cannot be because we were intimidated, feared, scared, or beat by the jersey.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire.