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Tony Amato ‘not surprised’ by Arizona soccer losing 4 players to transfer

One of those four players is top assister Amanda Porter

Amanda Porter
Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Morgan McGarry was surprised when Amanda Porter sent a group text to inform her teammates that she was leaving the Arizona soccer program.

“A lot of people weren’t expecting it,” said McGarry, a soon-to-be fifth-year senior. “But I guess some people said that she’d been talking to them about it for the past couple weeks, but it was definitely one of the most shocking transfers since I’ve been here.”

A sophomore from Littleton, Colorado, Porter said that she is “looking for a change.”

That is surprising, McGarry agreed, because Porter had a prominent role on the team. The versatile midfielder started every game in 2018, leading the Wildcats in assists (7) while being tied for second in goals (4).

But when Arizona head coach Tony Amato was asked if Porter’s exit was surprising, he hesitated to categorize it that way. After all, player movement is common in women’s college soccer.

Roughly nine percent of Division I players transfer at one point or another, according to NCAA research from 2017, a rate that is only expected to go up thanks to the new transfer portal that was introduced in October.

“It’s really one of those things that you just go, well, she’s looking for something different, wants a drastic change,” Amato said. “We liked coaching her, we wish her all the best, we’ll support her. ... I’ve been coaching for I think 16 years as a head coach and I would say that the word surprising doesn’t come to the forefront a lot. I don’t think I’ve seen everything, but you’re not surprised when things happen. It’s college athletics, it’s sports, it’s young people.”

Three other players transferred out of the Arizona program this offseason: sophomore defender Hailey Clifford, freshman forward Michaela Rentner and freshman goalkeeper Makayla Aman. None of them played much, if at all, in 2018.

It is apparently so common to lose that many players that Amato found it amusing that I even took the time to tweet about it.

“That’s the first time anyone’s ever tweeted about it,” he said. “But there are four (players leaving) in women’s soccer across the country every single year. That’s not to highlight that people come in and out of the program all the time, it’s to say that’s what this is. That’s what college athletics is.

“That is why people don’t recruit one player each year. You have 30 people on a team, you have 10 people in a recruiting class. Five or six are playing in any given year out of a recruiting class and five or six aren’t, and you’re trying to find where it works for everyone and you know that that stuff (happens). There’s a (transfer) portal for a reason. It’s a normal part of college athletics. So there’s nothing that’s alarming, surprising. That’s what this is and some of our players are going to be in the portal and we are going to get some players out of the portal. That’s how this is going to work for everybody across the country.”

As for replacing Porter, the Wildcats are approaching it the same way they would as if they lost a top player to graduation. Someone, maybe even multiple players, will have to fill her shoes.

It could be difficult, but it’s feasible. Amato pointed out that Arizona lost its leading scorer and leading assister after the 2017 season, but still managed to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

“We have to be able to do that every single year,” he said.

And actually less so in 2019. Even accounting for Porter’s exit, the Wildcats are returning eight starters next season, an unusually high number.

“Tony said in a meeting the other day that normally we lose about five to six starters, high impact players every year,” McGarry said. “This year we lost really only three or four starters, high impact players to either graduation or transfer, so there’s not that much turnover and not that many questions about, ‘oh, who’s going to fill this role now?’

“So I think it’ll definitely help us continue to be cohesive as a team and learn the style of play and how to play well together.”

What happens when a player transfers?

How does the team find out when a player has chosen to leave the program? McGarry explained:

“Porter sent a message like Hey, guys, I’ve decided to move on. Here are my reasons for that. I wish you guys all the best. We all responded, obviously, saying thank you so much for all you’ve done. And then the next day after that Tony sort of came in to the locker room before practice and sat us down and talked. He’s like, if you guys want to come to my office and talk about it anymore, you’re more than welcome. So he really leaves it up to the player to initiate letting us know, and then from there he’ll take it.”

Spring season opener cancelled

The Wildcats were supposed to play their first of five spring games Saturday against Del Sol Boys, an under-14 club team from Phoenix, but that match has been cancelled due to inclement weather.

A disappointed Amato showed me an image of Murphey Field blanketed by snow and puddles. He is not sure if the game will be made up, though he would like it to be.

“I wanted to get in a game before Spring Break. I always like to do that so I can kind of see where we’re at, so it’s unfortunate we won’t be able to do that,” he said. “But we pride our program on adjusting and pivoting when some of these things come up and still being able to get in the place and mindset we need to be in.”

Harsh weather has prevented the Wildcats from practicing as much as Amato would like this spring, too, so he said it will be great to have the new Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center at their disposal in the future.

The new facility, which sits across the street from McKale Center and mostly will be used by the football team, is expected to be completed by the end of February.

“I don’t know how many times in a year it’s gonna snow like today, it doesn’t rain that often, but I think there’ll be some opportunities like that,” Amato said.

In the summer and early fall, Amato thinks the indoor facility will provide a much needed reprieve from the heat.

“There are times we just want to get on the field and do a walkthrough in running shoes, and when it’s hot out that still takes a toll on you,” he said. “So I think some of that stuff we can balance by just doing it in there. It’s not what we play in every day, so we wouldn’t be utilizing it every day of the week, but there are some opportunities where there’s no point in being in the heat and getting dehydrated.”

Amato said recruits often express concern about playing in the southern Arizona heat.

“A lot of people look through a lens of like, oh, Arizona weather it’s so great. That’s how you can get players and students to Arizona. But for us it’s always a concern because we play in August, September, October,” he said. “So this will be one way that can help show them that it’s not about playing in the heat all the time.”