Did Tony Amato think it was necessary to remind his team about last year’s season-opening loss to Albany? Nope.
Did he do it after Tuesday’s practice anyway? You bet.
And his reasoning is simple—Arizona can’t have a similar letdown Thursday when it hosts Long Beach State to open the 2019 campaign.
“Early in the season, you can get in a Kumbaya state of like, ‘hey, we’re training hard, we’re playing well.’ I think it’s important to know that just because we’re training hard, it doesn’t mean we’re going to win on Thursday,” he said. “And I think we may have lost sight of that last year.”
Besides, Long Beach State is not a team anyone should take lightly. LBSU is coming off a 12-6-3 season in which it reached the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. The Beach are not only the reigning Big West champions, but also the conference’s preseason favorite.
LBSU led the Big West in scoring (33), though did concede 26 goals, the third-most in the conference.
“They like to play those long balls into the box,” said UA defender Ava McCray, who faced LBSU last season as a member of Cal Poly. “They’re big, aggressive, athletic gals, but I feel confident in this team that we’re going to get ‘em.”
Going another step further to prevent complacency, Amato warned his players that LBSU will be playing with something to prove as a team full of Californians who, in some cases, were overlooked by more prestigious Pac-12 programs.
“They play a tough schedule every year and they always knock off a few Power-5 teams, and have been to an Elite Eight within the last 10 years,” he said. “They went into BYU last year and won, which is a really difficult place to play. And they’re very capable of coming in here and and beating us. So we’re going to have be not only ready and prepared, we’re gonna have to play well. It’ll be a good challenge right out of the gate.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 3-0 dominant exhibition win over San Diego last Friday. Amato said it reaffirmed some of the things he already knew about his team—like that they are fit and hard-workers and can win games because of that—but it also shed light on some of the finer details they need to improve.
Tuesday, he challenged his team to defend at a higher level after it turned in what he thought was a B-level performance in training.
“So it’s a long way to go and we’ll be in a different place in a couple weeks than we are now— at least I hope so—but we got to keep getting better,” he said. “It’s a good foundation but we’re not there yet.”
One dilemma every coach has this time of year is finding the right balance between developing players and winning at all costs. The Wildcats have only had two weeks of training, so it still is not completely clear which players should, and shouldn’t, be part of their rotation.
The non-conference season is a good time to sort some of that out, to give the less-established players a chance to showcase their skills, but every result matters a great deal come NCAA Tournament time, so winning has to take priority.
Otherwise you run the risk of losing to a team like, well, Albany.
“It’s tricky,” Amato said. “You’ve got to bring some players along, some are more ready than others. We know our returners are in a good place, and we can rely on them early. Then you have a middle group that you have to nudge up. And then you have a group that’s not ready that you also have to get a little more ready. So you’re just balancing all that. But our sight, and we don’t ever hide from this, is set on winning every game we play.”
One of the freshmen who appears to be coming along nicely is Orange, California native Madison Goerlinger. The former track star played 56 minutes in the exhibition against San Diego, the most among UA’s newcomers.
“She’s a really good player,” Amato said. ‘We knew when we recruited her that she was athletic and tough. But she’s been really good with the ball, she is confident, she’s better in the air than we thought. She’s going to help us and help us pretty quickly.”
All over the field, too. Amato said Goerlinger is capable of playing left back, left or right wing, and forward.
“So I think it’s going to be wherever we need her in her first year to help fill either what the game is needing at the time or what we need defensively or what we need in attack,” he said. “She’s a good player and we’re going to find ways to use her this year.”
Still no starter
Amato said Arizona has not decided who its starting goalkeeper will be Thursday. Sophomore Kendyll Humphreys and freshman Hope Hisey each played a half against San Diego.
“I think they’re both doing a really good job,” Amato said. “They both played well on Friday in San Diego. There was not a huge separation there that we thought, ‘Oh, it’s clear cut this person has to play.’ They’re both competing, both working, both getting better. And we’ll make that decision leading into the game Thursday, but that probably won’t be made till after Wednesday’s session.”
Amato said he expects both keepers to play this season, but admitted his stance could change.
“They both need to be playing well. They need to take care of themselves. They need to be healthy. They need to be confident,” he said. “Where is Hope when school starts? We don’t know what that looks like yet. Kendyll’s been here for a year, so we know what that looks like. So there’s so many other factors.”
Wilson honored by WPSL
Sophomore forward Brooke Wilson was named the WPSL’s San Diego Division Offensive Player of the Year Tuesday after tallying six goals and four assists in seven games for the San Diego Surf this summer.
Wilson is expected to be one of Arizona’s top scorers this season, but she missed Friday’s exhibition with a foot injury and it is unclear if she will play Thursday.
Wilson is feeling better, but she was limited at Tuesday’s practice.
“We just want to make sure she’s 100 percent back...rather than just throw her full-go back into training,” Amato said.
On a personal note...
I will be covering the Pac-12 for TopDrawerSoccer.com this season. For my first story, I took a look at one big question facing each program. Be sure to check it out!
In the meantime, here’s Amato’s full interview from Tuesday:
Hear what Tony Amato had to say before Arizona Soccer takes on Long Beach State—the reigning Big West champs—in its regular-season opener ThursdayPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Tuesday, August 20, 2019