When Becca Moros was playing and coaching in the NWSL, her teams typically had four and a half weeks to prepare for their first game.
Now that she’s the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, she’s being reminded of how unique college soccer is—and not in a good way. UA will unofficially open the Moros era on Tuesday with an exhibition at San Diego State, a measly six days after their first practice.
Arizona’s first “real” game is not too far off from that—an Aug. 20 road match against the WAC champion Utah Valley Wolverines. In between, UA has a home exhibition vs. Grand Canyon on Aug. 14.
“As a new coach you’re really gonna make me put my foot in my mouth here, but I think these dates were set a really long time ago by people who didn’t play soccer and they’ve just stuck ever since,” Moros said. “Two weeks is absurd in soccer. It’s not heard of anywhere else in the world. ... It’s really not healthy physically to be cramming stuff into a two-week preseason. I know other teams are doing two-a-days and for me that’s archaic.”
Perhaps the oddest part about it? Arizona players have been on campus since early July, working on their strength and conditioning and even running their own on-field drills. For whatever reason, NCAA rules prevent coaches from getting involved until August.
“I think it’s pretty ridiculous we’re only having five practices then playing a game,” said senior midfielder Iliana Hocking. “I don’t know why the NCAA would set it up like that because you’re opening it much more to injuries or things like that.”
Alas, the games must go on. Tuesday’s exhibition will at least give Moros a chance to rotate plenty of players and see what her team learned in the first week of practice. Much of it was used to implement tactics that demonstrate how to manipulate space and find passing lanes. Arizona plans to be a more possession-oriented team under Moros, one that attacks through the middle of the field.
“Even though we played a spring season and it was just a few months ago, I think we’re already very much itching to play, especially having new coaches,” said sixth-year senior forward Jill Aguilera, who led Arizona with nine goals last season. “I’m excited to see our hard work in training get represented in the game.”
Moros said her players have been “engaged, focused and passionate” so far. She inherits a team that went 9-5-1 last season but is quite young. 19 of their 28 players are true freshmen or sophomores.
“They’re responding to coaching cues and the things we’re asking of them, and that’s the most important thing,” Moros said. “We can’t move forward if we don’t address what we’re working on right now, and so their attention to that detail has been really good. We put a lot of tactics into 4-v-2s and 5-v-2s. It’s a 6-by-6 space and you get tons of opportunities to make decisions over and over again. That’s where I’ve seen the first inkling of how we’re making progress and understanding, and that’s also a contagious thing because we’re talking about tactics where everybody is dependent on each other.”
Moros said the Wildcats haven’t had much time to discuss their defensive structure. Fortunately, they have been able to work on it a little bit simply by applying their new offensive principles.
“If you understand passing lanes, then you understand how to defend collectively,” Moros said.
Tuesday’s exhibition will also provide a glimpse at what kind of shape UA players are in. There’s a difference between in shape and game shape. Still, Aguilera expects the match to be more of a mental challenge than anything else.
“We’re going to be looking for those triangles or specific groups of people to outnumber the other team,” she said, referring to the team’s new offensive tactics. “It’s definitely going to be a lot of math in our heads and figuring out angles a lot more efficiently.”
San Diego State should be a formidable foe. The Aztecs are coming off back-to-back winning seasons, including an 8-3 mark last spring when they outscored their opponents—all Mountain West teams—27-14. Though much of the preseason is about self-improvement, Moros still plans to scout SDSU.
“As a staff that’s something that we need to do to sort of develop our understanding of how we’re going to approach every game this year,” she said. “So it’s also a training match for us, and then we want to be able to share that information with the players and see how they respond so that we can tweak that going forward as well.”
Moros admitted she’s nervous heading into her first game as a head coach, but they’re the good kind of butterflies.
“I feel like in order to get where I got in my playing career, you have to love that feeling and I just love it, it’s part of my competitive nature,” she said. “But I do appreciate that my most important part of the week is before the game happens and [the players’] most important part of the week is game day. ... And I’m not really going to joystick them and try to tell them what to do all the time. I want them to go and make decisions and read the game faster than I could in the moment from the bench.”