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Arizona soccer hoping to take next step in ‘valuable’ GCU exhibition

Sabrina Enciso
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Becca Moros says Arizona played 20 minutes of quality soccer in its 2-0 exhibition win at San Diego State on Tuesday. The other 70 she classified as “something else that we’re still working on.”

Moros has high standards for her club but said the incomplete performance is understandable given the coaching change and absurdly short preseason. The Wildcats only had five practices to prepare for that match.

Moros is looking forward to seeing her team take another step forward Saturday when it hosts GCU for its final exhibition before the regular season.

“I think the group is ambitious and they were happy to see what they saw, but also not satisfied,” Moros said. “I think we’re all in the same place with that.”

Of the things Arizona did well at SDSU, Moros liked the quality of passing and positional play. She said her players did a nice job of reading time and space. They are still learning the basics of Moros’ possession-oriented offense.

“They also created good pictures for us to sort of go, ‘okay this was good, but how can it be even better?’” Moros said. “And I think the first piece of film is sort of getting some idea of what we want. The next piece is, okay, we’re kind of getting what we want, but how do we make it undefendable? How do we make it even more dangerous? How do we prepare for transition and counter attack-type stuff, all the different moments that happen in a game?”

Moros felt “at home” in her first game as a head coach. She said she has “been on a sideline or a field her whole life” so nothing really fazes her at this point.

UA players could sense that on the field.

“She definitely let us play and kind of let us figure things out,” said junior goalkeeper Hope Hisey. “I think that was one of her goals was just to see how we would be able to solve problems on our own.”

Yes it was.

“I’m not a huge yeller from the sideline,” Moros said. “I like to give feedback and input and helpful information but I like them to be able to make their decisions and stuff, so I kind of let them play in between the pieces of information I am giving them. I think our whole coaching staff kind of has that approach, so it was good to just be there and observing a little bit and kind of watching them sort through their own processes.”

Jill being asked to do more

Jill Aguilera scored nine of Arizona’s 22 goals last season and Moros said the Wildcats will lean on her even more this season. It will be best for the team and her pro aspirations. The sixth-year senior scored one of Arizona’s two goals against SDSU, tapping in a loose ball off a rebound from freshman Maddy Koleno.

“Jill’s gonna have to be involved much more in our buildup play and how she needs to be on the ball more overall,” Moros said. “She’s super opportunistic, absolutely powerful both on and off the ball, shooting-wise extremely powerful, but we need her to be more involved in everything that we do in terms of getting from the backline into the midfield from the midfield into the front line. ... A lot of the best forwards in the world play-make as well. And if you have the tools that she has to get in behind and do those different things and then you add the ability to come in and build as well, it makes you very unpredictable.”

Who else will score for Arizona?

There is no clear cut second option now that Jada Talley is at USC, but Moros mentioned sophomores Jordan Hall and Quincy Bonds and freshmen Desiree Foster and Olivia Briede as players who could fill that role. Bonds, a former track star, slotted her first career goal against SDSU.

“The way in which we’re creating chances is going to be very different from the way that they did in the past, so I can’t forecast who’s going to excel when we’re asking them to do pretty different things,” Moros said. “But I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for us. It will take a little bit of time, but I think we do have the tools and the pieces to score plenty of goals.”

Aguilera has a message for Arizona’s young strikers.

“My first season I scored two goals... and you just got to improve every single year,” she said. “Q didn’t score a goal last year, but she scored against San Diego State and I think you’re just going to keep seeing a lot more freshmen and sophomores, juniors, whoever step up and take charge.”

Hope more involved in the attack

Hisey said she probably possessed the ball more at San Diego State than she has in any other game of her career. That’s a product of Arizona’s new style of play.

“The overall philosophy is Hope is gonna have to be able to play with her feet a lot more in shorter and tighter spaces, be confident with different ranges of passing, which I really think she has the ability to do that,” Moros said. “She’s shown that right away with a very short amount of training, so I don’t think that’s particularly new to her. It’s just a little bit different stylistically from what she’s been doing in the past few years. She can clear the ball really well, she can come off her line really well, she can scoop the ball and play out, she bowls the ball well, so I think she has all the tools that she needs to be able to sort of play into the way that we want to bury our attack coming out of the back.”

Get to know GCU

The Lopez went 8-9-1 last season, including a 7-4-1 mark in the WAC and a 4-1 home loss to Arizona. GCU has been picked to finish third in the conference this season and even received a first-place vote. Remarkably, the Lopes returns 100 percent of their scoring from last season. Arizona only returns 59 percent. Aguilera accounts for almost all of it.

“I expect them to be a better trained, more organized team than we are at this point, and I think that’s what we need,” Moros said. “We need that kind of competition where somebody is really solidly able to execute their game plan. That’s going to challenge us in a way that is really valuable.”

What will Moros be looking for on Saturday?

“I want to see a mentality from our players, the willingness to compete,” she said. “Everything is not going to go well for us all the time, so we’ve got to see that grittiness to get through those moments where we don’t play our best. ... I want to see more of what we saw against San Diego State. I want to see more of that ability to move the ball quicker than other teams, to fix their body positioning, to be able to be more efficient and more aggressive. Just little steps, honestly. And then I’m gonna see some different pairings tomorrow, see how people have handled being in different positions. So I’ll just be really excited to see what that next piece is for them.”

Welcome back, fans

Saturday will mark the first time fans are allowed in Mulcahy Stadium since 2019. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. MST. Tickets range from $5-8.