Arizona soccer’s 2019 schedule won’t be officially unveiled until the summer, but the framework is complete and we have a copy of it.
Some of the dates and times still have to be sorted out for TV reasons, but here’s how it breaks down.
The big test in non-conference play is the road match at Santa Clara. The Broncos, a perennial top-15 team, famously snapped Stanford’s 29-game winning streak last season by tying the Cardinal in Palo Alto.
Santa Clara wound up earning a three seed in the NCAA Tournament where they were upset by NC State in penalty kicks in the second round.
Arizona has seven other NCAA Tournament teams on its schedule: Stanford, USC, UCLA, Washington State, TCU, Long Beach State and San Jose State.
Arizona will be hosting TCU for the first time since 2017, when the Wildcats scored two late goals to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona also welcomes fellow Big 12 school Oklahoma, a fairly familiar opponent. The Wildcats played a home-and-home against the Sooners in 2016 and 2017, with the road team winning both games. Oklahoma, who won 10 or more games in 2014-16, has posted two losing seasons in a row.
Another familiar foe, UC Irvine, is on Arizona’s schedule for a third straight season. The past two matchups were tough, physical games. The teams fought to a scoreless draw in Tucson in 2017, before the Wildcats won the rematch in Irvine last season thanks to a 71st-minute goal by Jill Aguilera.
The Pac-12 will pit Arizona against the nation’s top teams on a weekly basis, making the non-conference portion of the schedule extremely critical. The Wildcats need to be tested in non-conference play so that they are adequately prepared for the Pac-12, but they also can’t lose too many games or else they run the risk of digging themselves into an insurmountable hole heading into conference play.
“Very, very challenging schedule that we’ll have to make sure we’re in a good place to get some results,” said Arizona coach Tony Amato.
One odd thing: Arizona will be playing Stanford on the road for the third straight year.
New transfers wanted more
Arizona added two sophomore transfers last week—Cal Poly defender Ava McCray and William & Mary midfielder Grace Santos. Both were members of their conference’s all-freshman team last season and are eligible to play immediately at Arizona.
They were intrigued by the opportunity to compete at a higher level, Amato said.
“We’re excited to add them or we wouldn’t have added them,” he said. “But we feel like they’ve already had a year of college under their belt, successful years. They do have to make a transition. It’s just different transition than what typical freshmen coming in have to do.”
Because unlike incoming freshmen, McCray and Santos have already played against top-tier competition. Cal Poly faced Stanford, Washington State and Santa Clara last season. William & Mary played Virginia, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Wake Forest.
“We’re comparing apples to apples when we watch them play on video,” Amato said. “Whereas the freshmen, that’s not what we’re doing. We’re watching them against other club players.”
McCray, who started in 19 games at Cal Poly, will find playing time hard to come by early on since Arizona is returning its entire backline. However, the unit features two seniors, so Amato envisions McCray shouldering a bigger role later in her career.
“Super athletic, athletic family, tough, good player,” he described McCray. “One of the things that stood out to us was her competitiveness and her ability in the air. And when we saw that in Pac-12 level games, we felt like that should be a great addition.”
Amato said Santos was a center midfielder at William & Mary and will “play somewhere in the midfield” for Arizona, a position that is a bit more unsettled with the loss of starters Kennedy Kieneker (graduation) and Amanda Porter (transfer).
Santos started in nine games for the Tribe last season, scoring one goal.
“It’s just a matter of making that jump now to playing the (Virginias), Wake Forests, Texas A&Ms every game,” Amato said of the transition to the Pac-12. “She wants that. That was a challenge for her that she wanted to tackle.”
When asked if Arizona’s 2019 roster is finalized, Amato couldn’t rule out another addition—or subtraction.
“I don’t know if it’s ever done these days,” he said. “The environment the way it is, and how college athletics is with the (transfer) portal, everyone’s kind of seeking out their options. And I think we’re always looking to upgrade the roster and you’re ready for a change in your roster. So it’s really day by day.”
New recruiting rules
New legislation was passed last week that now prohibits college soccer coaches from communicating with club coaches and players until June 15 of a recruit’s sophomore year of high school.
Visits are now outlawed until Aug. 1 of a recruit’s junior year of high school. Previously, recruits were being contacted by schools—and sometimes even committing to them—as early as eighth or ninth grade. Several current UA players committed as freshmen in high school.
The new rules are designed to give players more time during the recruiting process, the hope being that they will make more informed decisions about their future. While the legislation was widely supported by coaches—hence why it was passed and proposed—Amato tends to be on the other side of the fence.
“I don’t necessarily feel like we needed to change a whole lot in the sense that I still think the success rate and transfer rate and all of that is going to be pretty similar,” he said. “Whether you’re recruiting juniors or seniors, you’re still trying to predict how they’re going to be once they are in your team and away from home. I don’t know if we’re going to get it any more right recruiting between their sophomore and junior year than we are a year earlier. Because it’s really just delaying it a year for the most part.
“So I don’t know if that’s going to change any of that. I know it’s crazy if somebody wants to commit as an eighth grader...but if a family wants to do that, and the coach wants to do that, okay. I wasn’t someone who was like, ‘that’s just crazy and you should never do that.’ You don’t have to do it. The family doesn’t have to do it. The coaches don’t have to do it. So the rules are just delaying all that. And I still feel like everyone is going to find ways to still evaluate and recruit within the rules ... and still try to fill rosters as quickly as they can.”
Amato is puzzled by the Aug. 1 date because that also marks the first day of the college season.
“Now you’re faced with starting the season with training twice a day and getting the team ready for the season, which should be the most exciting time of the year, and you’re going to feel like you have to have all your top kids visit then.” he said. “I’m not sure it’s making things better.”
Moreover, the new rules, which go into effect May 1, create an awkward situation for eighth and ninth graders who have already chosen their colleges.
“We won’t be able to have any talks with them unless they come to camp,” Amato said. “And then at camp, you can’t have recruiting talk. So they may come to a camp, a summer camp, something like that, where you are connected to them but you can’t talk about recruiting stuff. They’re already committed, you’re just keeping that connection. And then you’ll be able to go back to talking to them. So it’s a little bit tricky in the first year. I think the dust will settle, it’ll play out, everyone will figure it out as we go, it won’t be as big of a deal as maybe it is the day it drops. But yeah, that will be an interesting dynamic.”