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Arizona soccer can’t convert chances in loss to No. 6 USC

Hannah Clifford battles a USC defender
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The Arizona Wildcats turned in another quality defensive performance Sunday, but failed to find the back of the net in a 1-0 loss to No. 6 USC.

It wasn’t for a lack of chances.

The Wildcats outshot USC 12-11 and manufactured eight corner kicks, but were shut out for just the second time this season—just a few days after they netted three goals in a win over No. 10 UCLA.

“It’s just not our day sometimes,” said midfielder Iliana Hocking. “Sometimes everything goes in, sometimes nothing goes in. I think we had a lot of quality chances, there was a lot of stuff on frame, right in the box, we just didn’t finish.”

Hocking and forwards Brooke Wilson, Jada Talley, and Hannah Clifford—arguably UA’s three best attackers—re-entered in the 81st minute as the Wildcats attempted to make one last push. All three put a shot on frame, but USC goalkeeper Anna Smith turned them away.

USC also cleared three corner kicks in the final 10 minutes, including one that saw UA goalkeeper Hope Hisey come forward to get a head on the ball.

“We were basically going to a four-front to try and have more people up top and create chaos to find a way to score the goal,” said Arizona coach Tony Amato. “We maybe could have done a little better in terms of quality right in front of goal. Whether it was the cross, we needed a little luck on a corner, because we created some dangerous chances there, and it just didn’t go on the back of the net today, and sometimes that’s going to happen.”

A well-placed long ball by Kaylin Martin helped USC (9-1-1, 2-1) break the scoreless tie in the 37th minute. Tara McKeown out-sprinted a trio of Arizona defenders to collect it before a clinical finish into the upper corner.

“We had a hard time at spells in the first half, so we changed our formation a bit to try and contain the middle of the field,” Amato said. “And then in the second half, we had to change a couple times just because they’re good team and they’re able to solve what you’re doing. And we just kept adjusting, they kept adjusting, and it was a really good Pac-12 game.”

Wilson produced what was probably Arizona’s best scoring chance in the 22nd minute, making a run into the right side of the 18, before a USC defender chased her down and blocked her shot to safety.

Jill Aguilera took a rip from the opposite side of the box in the 11th minute, but Smith scooped it up. Kelcey Cavarra fired a shot from near the top of the box in the 33rd minute, but it was blocked, resulting in a corner kick.

It, like the seven others, proved fruitless.

“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Amato said. “The effort was there, team spirit was there, competitive level was there. I mean, they’re a really good team. And we outshot them, had more corners, created some chances. Now granted they had some chances as well, and they capitalized on one. We just had to clean up a few things in some key areas to prevent that goal, but if you were coming in and saying you’re going to give up one goal to USC, we probably would have said, ‘OK, but we got to find a way to score one to get a point out of the game.’”

McKeown’s goal aside, Amato was pleased how Arizona defended on the weekend. The Wildcats shut out a potent UCLA team Thursday, and held the L.A. schools to 11 shots apiece, well below their season average.

“I wasn’t totally sure where we were at,” he said. “We were giving up some goals throughout the season so far, and we defended really well this weekend as a team. We played two really good teams and gave up one goal, so I think that was really important.”

The loss drops the Wildcats to 7-3 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12, but they are feeling confident heading into next weekend’s road games against No. 9 Washington State and Washington.

“Tony said in the huddle that we gave up one goal in two games against the top 10 teams in the entire nation, so I think overall that’s a really good weekend for us,” Aguilera said. “Going into the entire weekend it was a nothing-to-lose situation.”

Hocking sisters go to battle

Sunday marked just the second time Hocking and her fraternal twin sister Penelope Hocking have played against each other. Iliana said it’s odd to see her sister in a different uniform, but has to get used to it since they will face each other (at least) two more times.

“It’s awkward because we’ll always talk about game plans throughout the week,” Iliana said. “Like ‘oh, what are you guys doing to prepare for this team?’ But this week it’s like I can’t tell you what formation we’re playing. It’s just, ‘so are you ready to play me or what?”

After beating her sister’s team, Penelope interrupted Iliana’s interview from a distance by shouting “Yeah, Ili! Slay!”

Iliana laughed and said, “that’s Penelope.”

“She’s not going to rub it in my face,” added Iliana. “It’s just going to be normal. She’s probably bummed she didn’t score, but we’re just happy to be with our family.”

They are the daughters of former MLB infielder Denny Hocking.

“My parents didn’t really push us too much,” Iliana said. “Everything came independently for me and my sister. We’re pretty driven people. They just supported us. Whatever you want to do, you want to go play soccer, go do it. We didn’t want to play softball. Whatever. Doesn’t matter.”

While extremely close, the Hocking sisters are very different players. Penelope (eight goals) is one of the top scorers in the country. Iliana does her best work doing the little things, like tackling and heading. (You can read my story on that here.)

The Wildcats tried to recruit both Hocking sisters, but Penelope spurned them at the last minute.

“Penelope decided not to come on her visit right before, a day before, and Ili came,” Amato said. “I think if P would have come, maybe it would have been a different story. Who knows?”

Photo by David Kelly/KVOA

Postgame interviews