It was a dominant performance by defending national champion UCLA. They controlled the game against Arizona soccer from the opening whistle. It just didn’t always show on the scoreboard through the first 45 minutes.
The problem for the Arizona Wildcats is that a soccer match isn’t just 45 minutes. The Bruins’ dominance finally showed on the scoreboard in the second half, ending with a 4-1 UCLA victory.
UCLA had a 9-1 advantage in shots at the end of the first half. The Bruins also led 5-0 in corner kicks. The problem for them was that the scoreboard read 1-1 after the Wildcats scored on the only shot they were able to get off in the first half.
“I think the scoreboard does reflect some of their dominance in the game,” Arizona head coach Becca Moros said. “And you look at it, the shots they create compared to the number of shots we created. And were they all great shots? Definitely not, but you can’t score if you’re not creating goalscoring opportunities.”
As Moros indicated, most of the Bruins’ shots were not dangerous. What they demonstrated was how much possession time UCLA had. The visitors ended the match with a 20-2 lead in shots, although only seven were on goal. They also had an 8-0 advantage in corner kicks.
Even when Arizona was able to produce what looked like dangerous chances, they often ended without getting a shot. UCLA repeatedly regrouped and shut the home team down before the Wildcats could bother the opposing keeper.
“I just think they’re a tremendous team and they’re strong in every position, individually comfortable on the ball, they want the ball at their feet,” Moros said. “And I think that they were patient in the right ways and then aggressive in the right ways, but I don’t know if it was a discipline thing. I think our discipline has continued to grow and get better as we have sharpened little details, but this is a very, very good team. And, I think individually, they’re hard to match up against because they’re very powerful and can solve problems in a lot of different ways.”
If there is a problem with discipline, one area that stands out is penalty kicks. Arizona has given up five penalty kicks in 15 games this season. While Wildcat goalkeeper Hope Hisey has saved three of them, it’s a tough spot to continue to put a goalkeeper in. It has cost the team at least one loss.
In comparison, the Wildcats gave up three penalty kicks last season and just two in the fall of 2021. In the spring of 2021, they gave up none.
While the Arizona record book does not list records for penalty kicks surrendered, the website indicates that prior to this year the Wildcats have not given up more than three in a season stretching back to 2016. There are still four games to go this year.
Moros was not entirely happy with the officiating in what was occasionally a physical game.
“I think they got a little boost here and there and some help from the referees, but, you know, maybe they earned that,” Moros said.
The players weren’t concerned about the physicality of the game, though. Gianna Christiansen said that they had played more physical games this year.
“I’m personally a very aggressive player,” said senior Megan Chelf. “So I like when the game gets like that.”
UCLA was called for nine fouls compared to eight called on Arizona.
The Bruins started the scoring in the 14th minute when Lexi Wright put the ball in the bottom right of the net.
The Wildcats finally responded in the 39th minute when they earned a free kick near midfield. The ball was played long into the box where Chelf headed it to Christiansen. Christiansen tied the match with her second goal of the season and the third of her career.
“I just knew she was gonna get that ball on the back post,” Christiansen said. “So I knew that I should be on the other end, and I was there and we got the goal.”
Arizona tried the same play just over a minute later. This time, UCLA was able to keep the set piece from being successful.
The Wildcats kept it even almost 10 minutes into the second half, but a hard foul in the box gave UCLA the penalty. Unlike the questionable foul that cost Arizona the match against Washington State two weeks ago, there was no doubt about this one as Sarah Rice plowed into the UCLA attacker in the box. The successful PK by Reilyn Turner gave the Bruins the 2-1 lead.
Wright scored the insurance goal in 66th minute. Ally Cook put it to bed with a fourth goal in the 87th minute.
Hisey tied Sabrina Enciso (2017-21) for the program lead in career games started. She also took sole possession of third place in career games played with 83, moving ahead of Brianna Caceres (2005-08), Jaden DeGracie (2013-16), and Kennedy Kieneker (2015-18). She will tie Enciso and Iliana Hocking (2018-22) for second with 84 career games played on Sunday.
Hisey ended the night with four saves, giving her 339 for her career. She is chasing the program record of 345 held by Jen Weibel (1994-96).
Arizona next plays No. 11 USC on senior day. The Trojans dropped their match to No. 24 Arizona State on Thursday shortly before the Wildcats finished playing the Bruins. Will that make a difference when UA and USC face off on Sunday?
“Definitely,” Chelf said. “I think both teams are now coming off a loss, so I think it’ll just raise the intensity for both teams on Sunday. I think it will be a really good game.”