When Tony Amato’s postgame interview ended, he rose from his seat and exhaled as he ducked out of the media tent in the corner of the Mulcahy Stadium parking lot.
“That was chaos,” the Arizona coach said, succinctly reflecting on 90 minutes of hair-greying soccer.
Fortunately, it was the good kind of chaos. The kind he was looking for when he summoned Brynn Moga into the game early in the second half.
It wasn’t that much later when the senior forward collected a loose ball in front of the net and slotted the game-winning goal in the 63rd minute of UA’s 1-0 win over TCU in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
“Brynn is one of our go-to, go-out-there-and-cause-some-chaos (players),” Amato said. “Run hard and be difficult for the other team, and that’s been her role over the last few years.”
Lost for words, Moga could only describe the moment as “super exciting.” It was her first goal of the year, her last home game, and just her 12th appearance of the season.
“Every opportunity I get, I just really want to go and cause chaos,” she said. “Like Tony always says.”
Moga’s tally propelled Arizona (12-6-1) into the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, the first time the program has ever done so. The Wildcats will play No. 4 seed Penn State in Palo Alto, California next Friday.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said senior midfielder Kelcey Cavarra. “I mean, we’re a program that hasn’t done that because we haven’t even been in the tournament three years in a row. So that’s pretty big. You always talk about building a legacy, and this is just part of the legacy we want to leave.”
Looking to avoid its third loss to Arizona in as many years and second in as many months, TCU gave the Wildcats all they could handle.
The visitors peppered the UA backline with 17 shots and nine corner kicks. Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey was tested early and often, making seven saves in her postseason debut, showing why she made the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.
“(TCU’s Messiah Bright) was really good in the air and we worked on it and practiced it and I think our players just had to find a way to clear some of those (corners), especially some of the knock downs and second balls,” Amato said. “And Hope was really good on a few of them and that was the key to the game.”
“It was just being aggressive, not letting them get to the ball first and making sure we were tight on all of our marks,” Cavarra added.
Bright was ejected in the 72nd minute after striking Arizona center back Hallie Pearson in the face as the Wildcats fended off TCU’s attack. Pearson fell to the grass where she’d lay for a few minutes before staying in the game.
The scene didn’t escalate, and Amato was proud of the way his players kept their cool, knowing that any retaliation could have resulted in more red cards.
Besides, they knew a better way to fight back.
“I think it’s easier to take revenge by winning the game than retaliating on the spot,” Cavarra said.
Even when down a player, TCU was able to get on the front foot. In the 81st minute, Yazmeen Ryan created some space in the left side of the box, but her shot rattled off the crossbar, then a UA defender, then the post, before the Wildcats were finally able to clear it.
“It had to be super close (to crossing the goal line),” Amato said with a wide smile. “But in order to win games like this, you’re going to have to have a bit of luck. You’re gonna have to have your keeper make some saves, you’re going to have to play well and grind through some stuff, and we were fortunate to be on that end tonight.”
A few minutes later, Ryan had another opportunity on a corner, but Hisey was there to glove it. Arizona, which beat TCU 4-3 in September, only owned an 18-17 shot advantage, with both teams logging nine in the second half.
Bright and Ryan combined for 14 shots. Brooke Wilson led Arizona with seven, with a few close calls. She and Jill Aguilera both saw shots sail just high of the crossbar.
“The biggest thing we had talked about at halftime was making sure we don’t quit on the play,” Amato said. “Like, it doesn’t need to be a perfect goal, like this combination, great delivery cross, and then a timed, perfect run into the box. That it was just going to be making sure (TCU) can’t clear a ball, getting a ball into the box, knocking it down, following it up, and that’s what I saw on (Moga’s) goal. ... And that’s how you’re going to win games like this.”
And if the Wildcats can pull it off one more time, they will do something they haven’t done since 2015: reach the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona came painfully close in 2018 when No. 2 seed Tennessee scored in the final minute to end UA’s season in Knoxville after the Wildcats rallied from a two-goal deficit.
They are confident this year will be different and aren’t satisfied with merely making the tournament.
“I think this group has the ability to play really good soccer and be dangerous in attack,” Amato said. “And tonight, I didn’t think we were as mobile and threatening going forward at all times, and some of that was them, some of that was us, but I thought that grit defensively was big time. I thought the character we showed, the toughness we showed, the emotional control we showed, was really good. And so if we can combine the two next weekend, like we did against UCLA, like we did against Washington State on the road, the team’s capable of winning.”
Here’s what Tony Amato had to say after Arizona Soccer’s first-round win over TCUPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, November 16, 2019
Seniors Kelcey Cavarra, Samantha Falasco and Brynn Moga
Seniors Kelcey Cavarra, Samantha Falasco and Brynn Moga discuss Arizona Soccer’s dramatic NCAA Tournament win over TCUPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, November 16, 2019