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Arizona soccer ties GCU in final exhibition, but has ‘vastly improved’ during preseason

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

PHOENIX — Arizona soccer wrapped up the preseason Sunday with a 0-0 draw against the Grand Canyon Antelopes.

The exhibition was originally scheduled for Saturday in Tucson but was postponed and relocated due to rain. UA head coach Becca Moros was disappointed by the final score but continues to like the progress her team has made since its first practice on Aug. 4.

The Wildcats are pressed with learning a new style of soccer in a short amount of time.

“The quality of the passing, the timing of movement has been vastly improved,” the first-year coach said. “Positional possession is one of the hardest styles of soccer to play. Everybody’s got to be on and everybody’s got to be able to plug in and do exactly what they need to do. It just takes time to click with an entire team. Two weeks is obviously not enough time to do that, so that’s what we are doing for the next six weeks as we push into the season.”

Moros figured GCU, which returns every key player from last season, would be the more organized team but Arizona was on the front foot most of the night.

The Wildcats owned a 13-10 shot advantage, with six of those looks coming in the first of three 30-minute periods. UA added five more shots in the second period and two more in the final 30 minutes when their lineup consisted mostly of underclassmen.

Ultimately, not converting the early chances came back to bite them, Moros said.

“But the actual shot creation, the opportunity creation is the kind we’re looking for,” she said. “And as we produce more and more of that, we’ll finish them. ... I don’t know what specifically was missing. We had some really stellar balls across the backline from behind their line...and lack of composure right at that last little piece. But that was great play breaking down through that final third in the first 20 minutes. A lot of through balls.”

23 different Wildcats saw the field as Moros made an effort to rotate as many players as she could in the preseason. It helps them get in game shape while giving her a chance to make live evaluations.

Moros thought fatigue affected her team’s sharpness as the match wore on—90-degree temperatures made for a hot, sticky evening—but overall she was pleased with the attention to detail.

“Every day that we get to be together, every minute we spend together counts,” Moros said. “That’s video sessions, that’s on the field, that’s their recovery time, which they’ve been stellar with.”

Jill Aguilera spearheaded Arizona’s attack like usual, leading the Wildcats with three shots. The difference is the sixth-year senior has a different role in Moros’ system, often dishing and receiving passes from the middle of the field.

Under the previous staff, Aguilera was mostly used on the wing, where her speed and powerful left foot made her one of the best scorers in program history. Moros thinks Aguilera can do even more.

“We asked her to be more involved in the build-up play and play-make more and she did,” Moros said. “Now it’s a matter of ‘Okay, how do we vary that with the other pieces of her game?’”

Senior midfielder Iliana Hocking had the best scoring chance of the night, nearly heading in a corner kick from Jordan Hall in the 52nd minute. As her momentum carried her toward her own net, the GCU keeper caught the ball on frame, over an attacker, and somehow kept it from crossing the goal line as she crashed to the grass. (Either that or interference was called.)

“I saw the goalie in the back of the net, I just thought it was in, then I saw the ref point,” Hocking said. “But hopefully in the games that count, that will be a goal.”

Hocking, now a three-year starter, has been a beneficiary of Arizona’s new style of play. She’s still a central midfielder but is receiving more touches on the ball.

“We want to play in the middle of the field more and try to play quicker,” she said. “It’s definitely different than Tony (Amato)’s style in the past. We’re playing a lot more calm and trusting our skills, so it’s been nice.”

Hocking’s takeaway from Sunday’s exhibition was more or less the same as Moros’.

“Disappointed with the tie and I think we did better than the first game, but obviously we just need to fill in some holes and get our passing together,” Hocking said. “I definitely think we had some good moments where you can really see it come together but it’s still clunky. We’ve only had two weeks of training with this, but I definitely see a lot of improvement as each day goes on. I think by the time the season starts we’ll be more cohesive.”

The Wildcats already seem to be in sync defensively, posting clean sheets against San Diego State and now GCU. They are not as aggressive with their high press under Moros, but their backline has been tough to crack.

GCU had four shots on frame and only one—a look from inside the box that bounced off the bottom of the crossbar—was particularly dangerous.

“We definitely are working on staying compact and working together in the backline,” said sophomore defender Jenna Studer. “We’re working hard for each other and it shows.”

Up next

The Wildcats open the regular season on Friday, Aug. 20 at Utah Valley. The Wolverines won the WAC last season. (GCU finished third.)

Postgame interviews