It only takes one moment of brilliance to win a game in overtime, and Jill Aguilera provided one that will go down in Arizona soccer lore.
With less than two minutes to spare, the UA forward collected the ball near midfield, took several dribbles across the pitch, weaved around a pair of defenders then, from 25 yards out, unleashed a left-footed rocket into the upper corner for the golden goal.
A dogpile ensued. The Wildcats had beaten Utah, 2-1, in the 109th minute.
“It’s kind of a blur now, but it was pretty crazy,” Aguilera said. “Before the game, (Coach Tony Amato) always tells me broad things that he wants me to do. But this specific game he wanted me to be able to dribble the ball and take people on, beat people and I really took that to heart.”
Amato joked that the play unfolded just as he drew it up, but he couldn’t take credit for Aguilera’s heroics.
“That was unbelievable. What a strike,” he said. “She has the ability to do that and she got it on her left foot and just stepped into it and hit it. I just saw it again on a replay and it’s even more impressive when you see it a second time. I’m really happy for her to have a moment like that. You don’t forget those moments.”
Aguilera said it was probably the best goal she has ever scored — it was her fourth of the season and second game-winner — and it was certainly the best game she has ever played at the UA.
The redshirt sophomore also netted the equalizer in the 50th minute on a left-footed volley, which completely shifted the momentum of the game. It came just two minutes after Utah had grabbed a 1-0 lead, and a first half in which the Wildcats were thoroughly outplayed.
“I didn’t think it was a great first-half performance,” Amato said. “For 20 minutes, it was good when we had the ball, but there just wasn’t a lot of edge to it, and sure enough at halftime we came out and gave up a goal pretty early, so we were up against it.
“But you want to see your team respond when you’re not playing your best and you go down a goal, and to respond right away and get the goal off a set-piece (was great). And then at that point I felt like we were back to ourselves, we were grinding, we were battling for things, and what a fantastic goal to win it.”
Aguilera’s strike is even more incredible when you consider the context. Midfielder Emily Knous said Utah (3-6-1, 0-2) was a team Arizona (8-2, 1-1) had to beat, since their next three matches are against No. 18 Colorado, No. 2 USC and No. 13 UCLA.
“We definitely got it handed to us at halftime, but well-deserved,” Knous said. “I think there’s moments where you get together as a team, and I think this was one of those moments because we needed to be the team that came out with the energy in the second half.”
It was the first time the Wildcats played more than 90 minutes this season, but Knous said they were well conditioned for it.
“We put in the work in the summertime, we put in the work in the spring for these moments,” she said. “We grinded it out and we knew we had to make something happen. Tony told us at the end of regulation that it takes one moment, and that’s what Jill got us.”
Arizona outshot Utah 13-9, despite only mustering two shots in the first half. The Utes only took four shots in the second half plus overtime, but nearly headed in the golden goal in the 105th minute.
That’s when UA goalkeeper Lainey Burdett dove across the mouth of the goal to make a game-preserving save.
“That was dope,” Aguilera said. “I just see her starfishing across the goal. That’s just stuff she does on a daily basis.”
Burdett was more impressed by Aguilera’s game-winner.
“I wouldn’t say I saved the game, but it felt good to keep us in it and have Jill come out and score a beautiful goal in the upper corner,” she said. “That was awesome.”
Knous added: “It was one of those moments that gives you the chills.”
.@jill_aguilera scored both goals including a wicked game-winner from distance in @ArizonaSoccer’s 2-1 overtime win vs. Utah: “It’s kind of a blur now, but it was pretty crazy.” pic.twitter.com/Gu4fUUkiYu— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 28, 2018
.@LaineyyBurdett made a diving save in @ArizonaSoccer’s OT win vs. Utah, just minutes before @jill_aguilera’s game-winner: “I wouldn’t say I saved the game, but it felt good to keep us in it and have Jill come out and score a beautiful goal in the upper corner. That was awesome.” pic.twitter.com/kiDlKq9Rgc— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 28, 2018
Apparently “starfishing” is the best way to make big saves pic.twitter.com/zw4WVszikP— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 28, 2018