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Arizona soccer hits the road to face No. 3 USC, No. 13 UCLA

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona soccer team will embark on the toughest road trip the Pac-12 has to offer this week, facing No. 3 USC (9-1-1, 2-1) on Thursday and No. 13 UCLA (6-3-1, 1-2) on Sunday in Southern California.

The Wildcats are 6-39-3 all-time against the Los Angeles schools, but went toe-to-toe with them last year, losing to USC in double overtime thanks to a “trash call” before tying UCLA for the first time in program history.

“We expect them to be hard games, but our team is always up for the challenge,” said Arizona coach Tony Amato. “If you look at how it went last year, we were in the same spot: two really good teams. Granted, we played them here (in Tucson), but our team always responds in those games to be competitive.

“No Pac-12 game is easy and they know every year the L.A. teams are as good as it gets, so they’re going to have to be up for it.”

Tony Amato previews Arizona Soccer’s upcoming road trip against the L.A. schools, the Hocking sister rivalry and more

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, October 3, 2018

No. 20 Arizona (8-2-1, 1-1-1) is coming off a homestand in which they beat Utah and tied No. 18 Colorado. Both matches went to double overtime, so the Wildcats shortened practice Tuesday to get some additional rest.

“It was a tough weekend, but I think overall we got the points we needed,” UA defender Samantha Falasco said after the CU game.*

Mustering a draw or two in Los Angeles would be a success for the Wildcats, who are No. 22 in RPI, but even that modest goal won’t be easy to achieve against two of the nation’s best teams.

“It’s all a mentality,” Amato said. “You’ve got to make sure you are in a place that you’re not overwhelmed by the ranking or the name of the jersey. You can’t get beat by those things before kickoff. … You’ve got to have the right mentality and then you got to compete your butt off or it can be a long day.”

*UA players were unavailable to the media this week because of the shortened practice

Sister rivalry

UA’s Iliana Hocking will line up against fraternal twin sister, Penelope, on Thursday.

Penelope, who plays for the Under-20 U.S. Women’s National Team, has a goal and two assists at USC this year. Iliana is a reserve midfielder for the Wildcats.

“That could be a little interesting,” Amato smiled. “They both have a little fire and edge. They will need to make sure they keep that in check and the sister rivalry is a fun, good-spirited one and it doesn’t go beyond that. I don’t believe they’ve ever (played against each other) before. Every time we saw them they were on the same team, so it’s probably more stressful for the parents than the players themselves.”

The Hocking sisters are the daughters of former MLB player Denny Hocking, who was the first Minnesota Twin to have twins.

They were extremely highly-rated recruits and club teammates with UA forward Jada Talley and UA defender Sabrina Enciso on the SoCal Blues.

Enciso unlikely to play Thursday

Arizona could be without one of their defensive stalwarts this week, as Enciso is still recovering from the ankle injury she suffered in the second half against Colorado.

Amato said the sophomore playing Thursday would be “pushing it” but she traveled with the team to Los Angeles, so there’s still a chance she sees action on the road trip.

“She has a sprained ankle, so it’s a matter of how fast she heals,” Amato said. “We have her in a boot right now to take the stress off it.”

Enciso, a physical outside back known for her distant throw-ins, has started every game the past two seasons.

When she exited Sunday, Amato compensated by subbing in junior Leah Carillo and dropping midfielder Amanda Porter to the backline. It worked — they held the conference’s top offense scoreless the rest of the match.

But USC enters with the third-best scoring offense in the Pac-12, so they will surely test UA’s make-shift backline as well.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. MST on USC’s live stream.