In its exhibition game and its season opener, Arizona soccer didn’t start well. The players and head coach Becca Moros all said that they didn’t get fully into the swing of things until the second halves of games against Pepperdine and Iowa State. It looked like that had been ironed out in the home opener against GCU, but Wildcat goalkeeper Hope Hisey ended up having to save a penalty kick in the final 30 seconds to salvage a 1-1 draw.
“Against Iowa State, we just struggled a little bit with their tactical shape, and we didn’t solve it super well,” Moros said. “So, it took us the whole first half, and then second half we got better with it. In this game, we just kind of started with some of that tactical understanding of what didn’t go well and how to adjust to it.”
That helped Arizona dominate the first half. The Lopes didn’t get a single shot off while UA took 12 shots in the first 45 minutes. The Wildcats had a 5-1 advantage in corner kicks over the opening period.
The difference at halftime was GCU goalkeeper DeAira Jackson failing to corral a shot attempt by Cameron Valladares. Nicole Dallin put the rebound into the net to score Arizona’s goal in the seventh minute.
1 | 0— Arizona Soccer (@ArizonaSoccer) August 25, 2023
7' -GOOOOOOOOAALLLLLLL ARIZONA!
Can't let Nicki near the goal ♀️ pic.twitter.com/zIfeazLQtA
“We’ve talked about following up bombs that might pop off the keeper,” Dallin said. “So, I was just locked in ready for that.”
GCU regrouped at the half. It was a relatively even game in the second 45 minutes, but a few balls eventually bounced the Lopes’ way. GCU didn’t get its first shot until the 49th minute, and even that wasn’t a dangerous chance. It wouldn’t be the final one, though.
The visitors finally broke through the Arizona defense in the 64th minute when Gianna Gourley put one away on the counterattack. The game was now level.
“It was a classic counter,” Hisey said. “The girl that actually got the ball wasn’t really paying attention. She was at halfway talking to her coach and I think we just got caught not boxing off, which is a concept that we talked about a lot. And then Sarah [Rice] put in a good tackle, but the ball fell to the forward, and it was a 1v1. I think we could have done a lot better to prevent the whole situation from happening, but it was a good effort by our defenders to not concede.”
Moros agreed that it was something that should have been cut off earlier. A lot of that comes down to the Arizona back line being young and inexperienced. The team is still looking for leaders to learn to use their voices to help others and keep the defense organized.
“I think it’s just a little bit of inexperience that we’re sort of settling in to figure out who’s going to pick up what roles and how we’re going to solve those problems when they come down,” Moros said. “Defensively we were late on our shift and the transition on that goal. So the ball basically slipped through two of our players who should have been tactically a step or two, each one of them, in a different position, and then the ball would have never gotten through there. And at that point, we’re just scrambling kind of running back at our own goal. It’s an uncomfortable position for defenders to be in that much space, running kind of at your own goal.”
What was bad could have been even worse, though. After a very physical game, the official called a foul on Megan Chelf in the box with 32 seconds left on the clock. Few of the 1,200 fans in attendance were pleased, as many thought Chelf had been fouled in the other box not long before that. It didn’t matter, because Gourley was going to the spot regardless of what the Arizona fans thought.
For the second straight game, Hisey stepped up and saved a penalty for the Wildcats. How did she do it?
“I don’t want to give away my secret,” Hisey said with a smile. “I would say just being confident and kind of trying to not think too much about it. I think you can overthink penalties and like try to overcomplicate it. So, I have a routine that I stick to, and I just trust in that. It’s worked two times.”
Moros thinks there’s more to it, though.
“Hope is the secret to Hope saving penalty kicks,” she said. “She’s very long. She gets out big and she reads people really well. So, at that point, I think she just she’s got a huge stretch. She’s very quick, so she’s powerful off of her steps. And so, she covers a big part of the goal, which that’s the biggest thing. If you put it where she can get it, she’s gonna make a really good shot at it.”
1 | 1— Arizona Soccer (@ArizonaSoccer) August 25, 2023
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Arizona ended the game with an 18-7 lead in shots. The Wildcats led 9-3 in shots on goal and 7-4 in corner kicks. Both teams committed 11 fouls, and a yellow card was handed out to GCU’s Sidney Roberts in the 87th minute.
The 1,200 people in attendance was the fifth most for an Arizona soccer match.
The Wildcats next play at NAU on Sunday, Aug. 26. The game starts at 1 p.m. MST in Flagstaff. It will air on ESPN+.