Arizona soccer coach Becca Moros had a succinct message for her team after the 2-0 loss at Utah Valley last Friday.
“Turn the corner and look to the next week,” said senior forward Jill Aguilera.
The Wildcats were dusted by the Wolverines in their season opener, only generating one shot in Orem, tying the fewest in program history. Almost 3,000 Utah Valley fans packed the sidelines at Clyde Field, rattling a young Arizona team.
“And we weren’t able to settle ourselves down,” Moros said. “I mean, we were kicking free kicks out of bounds, no-look passes off the field.”
Or, as sophomore forward Jordan Hall put it: “We were just really frantic.”
“And that happens,” Moros said. “I’ve been on teams before where that happens. Psychologically, there are 20 players on our team who have never played in front of a crowd. It was a new experience for them.”
After poring over the film, Moros tracked 48 balls that were booted by Arizona’s backline to the foot of a Utah Valley player. All those turnovers allowed the Wolverines to pin the Wildcats deep in their defensive third. So when asked what she learned from the loss, Moros said, “I didn’t learn a lot because we didn’t show up.”
“The biggest thing is managing pressure and understanding that you can take risks, you are OK under pressure,” she said. “We’ve been playing under much more pressure in training, but then all of a sudden this team came out and we didn’t respond very well to their pressure.
“And from that it’s very difficult to evaluate a lot of other things but we were late stepping defensively, so we were allowing them to get comfortable on the ball. Our midfield shape and rotation, that organization wasn’t there. So we’ve got leadership and organizational things that we’ve had to work on this week as far as how do we move each other around into positions where the next pass we can do what we need to be able to do defensively.”
Once that happens, the Wildcats should start producing more scoring chances. They have failed to find the back of the net in their last two matches (the other being a scoreless draw in an exhibition at GCU). It’s the first time Arizona has been shut out in consecutive games since 2018.
“If you don’t play well out of the back, you’re not going to create a lot of attacking chances,” Moros said. “That’s what the root of the problem is.”
Aguilera downplayed Arizona’s offensive struggles, too.
“As I went through the film I noticed that we did have a lot of good buildups, we were getting some good passing together, it was kind of just that final pass,” she said. “We worked on that yesterday and we’re going to continue to work on it.”
Moros said UA players have responded well to the loss. If anything, it reminded them that learning a new style of play in just a few weeks will yield some growing pains. Moros noted that Utah Valley, which won the WAC and an NCAA Tournament game last season, was the much more experienced club.
“The hardest part of what you do is getting into the final third, so I think it makes complete sense to me that in three weeks that’s not the first thing that’s clicking,” she said. “We also had two starting forwards that aren’t here, who played a lot of minutes (last season), so we’re asking other people to fill those roles. And to say that in three weeks they should be able to do what two extremely experienced seniors did, it’s not realistic.”
Arizona is eager to bounce back Friday when they host NAU. An unusually wet monsoon season relocated the GCU exhibition to Phoenix and has prevented the Wildcats from practicing at Mulcahy Stadium as much as they normally would, adding even more anticipation for their home opener.
It’ll also be the first time fans will be in attendance since 2019.
“I think it’ll create a lot of edge and a lot of competitive energy throughout the entire team, so I’m really excited to see that,” Aguilera said. “I know it will for the freshmen for sure because they’ve never played at home before.”
Moros has never coached at home, either. She isn’t letting the loss to Utah Valley dampen her excitement for that milestone moment.
“I was a little nervous today when I woke up...but I like being nervous,” she said. “And I’m very hopeful based on our performances this week and the response to the last game that we’re going to show up [Friday] night and show everyone the work that we’ve been putting in and what it’s going to look like. We’ll be a completely different team a month from now.”
The Lumberjacks are 0-2 with road losses to Utah State and Utah Valley. The Wolverines rallied to beat NAU 2-1 in overtime after conceding an early goal.
The Jacks are coached by former UA assistant Kylie Louw, who is 15-10-4 in four seasons in Flagstaff. Louw was on Tony Amato’s staff from 2013 to 2016. That was the year Aguilera was redshirting with a torn ACL.
“She was a cool coach, but obviously I’m not going to let up,” Aguilera said. “We’re gonna play a different style than she’s seen before, so that’ll be a nice surprise.”
Arizona beat NAU 3-0 in the spring. The rematch will kick off Friday at 7 p.m. PT. The match will be streamed by the UA.
Aguilera not chasing records
The sixth-year senior needs eight goals to tie Arizona’s all-time scoring record, but that’s not something she keeps track of.
“As Becca would say, I don’t give a s—t,” Aguilera said. “Whoever scores, scores. Everything I do is for the team. And if I’m the one scoring, fine.”
Hall’s got next?
It remains to be seen who will score for Arizona other than Aguilera, but Jordan Hall is in the running—quite literally. The previous coaching staff recruited her out of Georgia because of her blazing speed, though she believes she can be more than a burner in Moros’ system.
“It’s a lot different, but I love it,” Hall said. “I love possession-style soccer because it can change on a dime. It doesn’t have to be 20 passes before a goal. It can literally be five. And just the movement off the ball, I think Becca’s style of play and how she’s implementing it into the team is beneficial for everyone. ... I see myself doing well in it because I’ve gotten more technical over the years, so I like playing the ball on the ground, I like taking players on, doing one-twos. So I see myself getting into the attacking third and helping my team score.”
Hall has started in six of the 16 games she’s appeared in at Arizona, but she’s still seeking her first career goal. She would love to replace Aguilera as their go-to scorer one day, but for now they are enjoying combining with each other.
“With her speed, it helps the entire front line,” Aguilera said. “And I think we both are able to think pretty quickly. And whether we have a specific plan or we have to combine on the fly, I think she’s really good at making good decisions when it comes to where the ball’s going or where it could be going.”
In other words: Hall has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. She was a late addition to Arizona’s 2020 recruiting class because of it. Hall said the former coaching staff spotted her at a winter showcase while recruiting Ava Hetzel, a fellow 2020 signee who transferred to Vanderbilt this summer.
Hall never expected to go to college in the desert, but she fell in love with Tucson sunsets and the friendly vibe she felt on campus during her visit.
“It was really beautiful and I wanted to go to a school where if I couldn’t play soccer anymore, God forbid, that I would still want to go there as a regular student and Arizona ended up being that perfect fit for me,” she said.
Hall committed and signed in January 2020. She was planning to pick a school much sooner but her recruitment got dragged out because she tore her ACL in her sophomore year of high school.
“God always has a plan and he just dropped Arizona into my lap,” she said.
Paint the A
There will be at least one visible change at Mulcahy Stadium for Moros’ first match. The Arizona Block A has been painted in red, white and blue inside the center circle. Moros said the idea was hatched by assistant coach Brian Periman, a Tucson native.
Don’t expect to see any other major changes. At least not yet.
“I think over time we’ll probably develop some, but the team has a lot of things that they like as far as cheers and things like that, so we are keeping to all of our Arizona traditions...and whatever makes them feel good,” Moros said. “They’ve been pulling us into the circles and making us do these silly things with them, so we’re learning those pieces from them.”