It was an eerily familiar feeling.
Arizona was controlling the ball and creating chances, but they could not find the back of the net. They couldn’t match Cal State Fullerton’s energy either, allowing the overmatched Titans to keep the game scoreless at halftime.
The Wildcats’ season-opening loss to Albany unfolded in a similar manner, so they knew some changes were needed to avoid another upset.
“We had possession of the ball, but we didn’t really have that fight,” said UA defender Morgan McGarry. “So we had a little talk in the locker room, the players were talking to each other before the coaches came in, and we were like, ‘we need to bring it, we can’t let them come in and beat us on our field.’ ... We know the feeling of losing against a team we thought we should beat against Albany, so it wasn’t going to happen again.”
And it didn’t.
Jill Aguilera and Jada Talley scored early in the second half and the Wildcats hung on to beat Cal State Fullerton 2-1 on Friday for their seventh straight win. Arizona is 7-1 heading into Pac-12 play.
“You have to give our team a lot of credit to hang in there, fight hard, grind some things out, but we also created some really good goal-scoring chances,” said UA head coach Tony Amato. “I thought we took the goals well. Jill did a great job. Jada got behind and finished and deserved the goal for what she was creating in attack, so we feel good overall.”
Arizona outshot CSUF, 21-6. Like McGarry, Amato thought the Wildcats could have been sharper at the start, but he was pleased with the adjustments they made in the second half.
“There were some turnovers or some service that could have been better, but we talked about it at halftime and that’s where we did a little better and scored the two goals so it was great to see the team take that information before halftime and get the goals,” he said.
Aguilera notched the game-winner, breaking the scoreless tie in the 56th minute. She collected a goal-line pass from Amanda Porter and promptly tucked a left-footed shot inside the far post.
“I saw Amanda coming down the line and everybody was getting closer to the box towards the goal line and I wanted to pop out and that’s a run we’ve worked on in the past a lot and something I especially like to do,” Aguilera said. “I wanted to be composed in front of the goal and that’s what I did and I slotted it right where Tony always wants me to put it.”
Aguilera, who had several close calls earlier in the game, hopped up and down in jubilation and it wouldn’t be long before the Wildcats had another reason to celebrate.
Less than two minutes later, the speedy Talley chased down a well-placed long ball from Hallie Pearson, beat the CSUF keeper and finished effortlessly to give the Wildcats a two-goal lead.
“When you score quick on opponents like that, they get down on themselves and it boosts our attack,” said Talley, whose five goals this season are a team-high.
The Titans didn’t look like a deflated team, though. They scored in the 70th minute to make it a one-goal game and nearly tied it in the 72nd minute, but UA goalkeeper Lainey Burdett broke up a run and made a big save to preserve the lead.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” Aguilera said.
The Titans continued to push as time ticked away, but Arizona staved them off. Aguilera nearly put the game away in the 86th minute, but her long shot squeaked over the crossbar.
“At that point it was don’t panic, clear the ball and get it out of here,” McGarry said.
McGarry said the Wildcats are happy how they finished non-conference play — seven straight wins after the loss to Albany — and Aguilera agreed that they are “in a really good place”, but their mettle will be tested next Friday when they travel to Palo Alto to face No. 1 Stanford in their Pac-12 opener.
The virtually indestructible Cardinal have won 29 games in a row and boast some of the best amateurs in the world, but the Wildcats aren’t interested in moral victories. Amato said anything less than a win or a draw would “feel hollow.”
“We can’t let up now,” Aguilera said. “We need to step up and play harder and better and faster than we ever have because Pac-12 is going to be a real battle.”
.@jill_aguilera scored the game-winner in @ArizonaSoccer’s 2-1 victory over Cal State Fullerton, her second of the season. She tucked a left-footed shot inside the far post. pic.twitter.com/eFdR6isAqp— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 15, 2018
.@jadatalley_ scored her fifth goal of the season in @ArizonaSoccer’s win vs. Cal State Fullerton, which leads the team. She’s taken that freshman-to-sophomore leap: “I knew I was going to have start and impact the team somehow.” pic.twitter.com/5FBDjTDkZD— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 15, 2018
.@morgansmcgarry on @ArizonaSoccer’s 2–1 win vs. Cal State Fullerton and the halftime discussion that helped lead to two goals: “We all just agreed that we needed to put our foot on the gas pedal and bring it.” pic.twitter.com/fTNqBf87x4— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 15, 2018