Tucson, Ariz. – The University of Arizona Wildcat soccer team won their second match of the 2014 season on Thursday, in their home opener against the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks on Murphey Field at Mulcahy Stadium. In front of packed stands, Arizona moved to 2-1 on the year thanks to a goal from senior LeeAndra Smith at the 86:09 mark, while NAU fell to 0-3. In the all-time series, Arizona is now 7-0-2 against the Lumberjacks.
The Wildcats dominated the first half of action, controlling the possession throughout and creating multiple scoring chances. They tallied 12 shots and six of them were on target. Midfielders such as freshman Gabi Stoian, junior Lexe Selman, freshman Cali Crisler and senior Julia Glanz connected well with the forwards (senior) Alexandra Doller, (junior) Kaitlyn Lopez and (freshman) Charlotte Brascia.
“NAU started out with five in the back,” head coach Tony Amato said. “They had three center backs and two outside backs. It was clear that we were going to have to break them down. We did that, but we weren’t clinical enough in front of the goal.”
With just over three minutes remaining in the half, sophomore Laura Pimienta played a great through ball to sophomore Paige Crouch. The NAU goalkeeper, Natalie Gilbertson, came out to intercept the pass but failed to make contact with the ball, striking Crouch’s legs and sending her flying through the air. Gilbertson was presented a yellow card. Junior Hannah Wong took the penalty kick for the Wildcats, choosing to go low and to the right, but Gilbertson guessed correctly and hauled in the shot. Gilbertson totaled six saves in the first half.
Arizona’s defense only surrendered one shot and it was wide right. NAU committed seven fouls and did not win a corner kick. The Wildcats committed four fouls themselves and won three corner kicks.
In the second half, Arizona picked up right where they left off. Once again, controlling possession and taking shot after shot. Early in the second half, around a minute into the action, Doller nailed the post on a shot from the left side of the goal and inside the 18-yard box. Glanz got great contact on a header from a Stoian’ corner kick but the keeper saved that as well.
Arizona surrendered one corner kick to NAU at the 68:18 mark but besides that, the ball stayed in Arizona’s attacking half the majority of the second period. At the 83:08 mark, Smith subbed in for Brascia. Crisler had a go from about 25 yards away, it was a rocket that the keeper deflected and it went straight into the crossbar. Smith, who just subbed in, followed the shot and was in the right place at the right time. The ball fell to her feet and she passed into the net for the game-winning goal at the 86:09 mark. It was Smith’s first official goal of the season, she also scored in the exhibition match against New Mexico. At the 88:53 mark, Doller was assessed a yellow card for time wasting.
“It was nerve-wracking for that second,” Smith said. “Coach always tells us, ‘when someone shoots follow-up for a rebound, you never know when there’s going to be one.’ The ball fell right to my feet and the thing that went through my head was, ‘just be clinical, it’s a simple pass into the net.’ It worked out that way. (To be an effective late sub) You have to stay mentally involved in the game, you’re watching your opponent, and you get to see what they are doing, what works and what doesn’t work. When you get in and get your opportunity, you have to finish. Our team we’re growing as a team and we’re starting to get to know each other a little better. We have so many different personalities that we can play with, we’re getting used to that. I think we’re going to do really well this season."
“We love Lee,” Amato said. “She has some strengths and like any player, has some weaknesses. She’s somebody who we know will always be ready when we call her number. She’ll do anything for us, she’s a great teammate. She’ll battle, she’ll play wherever we ask her to play. I just had a feeling tonight that she could pop up with a goal there and that’s why we threw her on. She capitalized on it.”
Arizona finished with 28 shots, 10 on target and nine were saved by Gilbertson of NAU. Arizona’s senior goalkeeper Gabby Kaufman registered her second shutout of the season and the 11th of her career. That is tied for the second-best total in UA history. She did not have to make a save in the game, surrendering only one shot in the first half. Arizona finished with eight fouls to NAU’s nine.
“I thought we controlled the game,” Amato said. “It was clear that they we’re going to try and be more defensive and then catch us on a counter-attack or a mistake. If we had scored earlier, I think it would’ve been a different story. I think we are growing and developing every day. We don’t have a clear-cut identity yet and it’ll take a little bit of time with so many new players. It’s all coming together; we’re taking it one step at a time.”
The Wildcats return to action at 6:30 p.m. MST on Friday, Sept. 5 for the Sun Devil Classic against Texas A&M in Tempe, Ariz.
For continued coverage of Arizona Wildcat soccer, visit ArizonaWildcats.com and follow @ArizonaWSoccer on Twitter.