TEMPE — One way or another, playing No. 17 LSU was going to be a good measuring stick for Arizona soccer.
Turns out they are still a major work in progress under their new head coach.
Marred by mistakes in their defensive third, the Wildcats lost 2-0 to the Tigers on Thursday, dropping to 1-2 to begin the Becca Moros era.
“We came up short,” the UA coach said.
LSU scored both goals early in the first half, quickly dashing any threat of an upset. Arizona helped them out.
In the 11th minute, Maddie Moreau exploited a passive Wildcat defense by taking a few uncontested dribbles into the box before slicing a shot into the upper corner.
UA players failing to step was only a minor gaffe compared to the 29th minute, when the backline turned the ball over deep in its own box.
Arizona goalkeeper Hope Hisey played the ball short to Sabrina Enciso, who forwarded it ahead to midfielder Maddy Koleno. The freshman immediately sent it back to Enciso, who panicked and kicked a pass across the box that was deflected by LSU forward Alesia Garcia.
Athena Kuehn pounced on the loose ball near the penalty spot and slotted it past a scrambling Hisey.
Arizona soccer trails No. 17 LSU 2-0 at the half. Tigers are outshooting the Wildcats 14-2. This goal sums up how things have been going so far. pic.twitter.com/npmQOYRN5G— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 2, 2021
“We made a bunch of mistakes and they capitalized on them,” Moros said. “We’re trying to build out of the back. In the past, the girls have been told never to pass backwards to the goalkeeper. We saw that in the [Utah Valley] game, where people just dribbled at the goalkeeper and were scared to play it back.
“It’s a huge mindset shift, but you can’t build as a team if you’re not willing to create numerical advantages in the defensive third, so it’s something we have to continue to work on, and we got caught playing too deep rather than stretching them out first and then trying to play.”
Struggling to connect the short, quick passes that their new system requires, the Wildcats couldn’t counter. They were limited to six shots and zero corner kicks. It’s the second time they have been shut out this season. Third if you include the exhibition at GCU.
“It’s not one issue, we’ve got a number of things we’ve got to work on,” Moros said. “When you win, you don’t feel like you have to change anything and when you lose, you feel like you gotta change everything. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing well and pushing forward and allow the girls’ process to take hold. It’s going to take us a little bit longer than, say, today.”
It didn’t help that Arizona was missing starting defender Ava McCray and midfielder Iliana Hocking to injury. They are two of the team’s most seasoned players. 17 different Wildcats played Thursday; 13 were freshmen or sophomores.
If there’s any silver lining, it’s that Arizona fought till the final whistle. Jordan Hall and Jill Aguilera were dangerous on the wing, and freshman forward Nicole Dallin nearly netted her first career goal in the 85th minute, unleashing a crisp shot from the top of the box
Mollee Swift, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week, made a diving save to keep the Cats at bay.
“I’m happy with the way our players coming off the bench played,” Moros said. “They did a really good job for us. I also thought we continued to play and compete the whole game, so mentality-wise it shows we were determined even after we were down two goals, which can be a bit frustrating. Especially when it happens on your mistakes.”
Becca Moros after Arizona soccer's 2-0 loss to No. 17 LSU in Tempe: "We made a bunch of mistakes and they capitalized on them." pic.twitter.com/MVhiwKqf25— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) September 2, 2021
The Sun Devil Desert Classic is always a gruesome event because of the heat, but Thursday was mild compared to previous years. Temperatures were in the low 90s and there was occasional cloud cover.
Even still, UA forward Quincy Bonds exited late in the second half after “getting too hot,” Moros said. Bonds was down on the field for a few minutes before trainers assisted her off.
Arizona drove back to Tucson after Thursday’s loss but will be back in Tempe later this weekend to face Cal State Northridge on Sunday at 11 a.m. MST. The Matadors (1-4) lost to Arizona State 4-2 in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader.