Q&A with Graham Winkworth as @SunDevilSoccer Hosts Sun Devil Classic
THE GAME: No. 21 Sun Devil Soccer (4-0) vs. CSUN (1-3)
WHEN: Thursday at 10 am MST
WHERE: Sun Devil Soccer Stadium • Tempe, Ariz.
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Sun Devil Soccer head coach Graham Winkworth offers his thoughts as No. 21 ASU prepares to host the annual Sun Devil Classic. The action kicks off on Thursday when the Sun Devils take on CSUN at 10 am at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium. That game will be followed by Arizona vs. No. 17 LSU at 1 pm. On Sunday, Arizona faces CSUN in the first game of the doubleheader at 11 am and will be followed by the Sun Devils taking on No. 17 LSU at 2 pm. Click here to purchase tickets for this weekend's contests.
On the team being 4-0 after the first two weeks: I'm very happy with the whole squad. It's been very challenging trying to find players to not put into the 22 every game. That has been the biggest challenge so far. But I'm really happy with the way the squad has galvanized together during what has been the most horrific injury crisis I have ever coached through and so I'm really happy with the mentality and the effort of the players.
On having so many players who have already scored this early in the season: It's nice to have players who score a lot, especially your strikers but you don't want to have just one player scoring all the goals because then other teams can stop you from scoring a lot easier. But if you have goals coming from all areas – from the defenders, from the midfield, from the forwards, from set pieces from open play – then it is a lot more difficult for an opposing team to stop you and so I've been very happy with the fact that different players are scoring.
On early Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for Nicole Douglas, Lieske Carleer and Birta Gudlaugs: I'm very happy for them. Dougie had a great opening week scoring the goals and assisting as well, certainly in that first game. I saw some comments on Lieske across social media saying, 'It's about time (she was named defensive player of the week)' and I really do think it's about time because she is a class act as a center back. She is one of the best defenders in the country. She is wonderful in possession with the ball and she is top class and so I'm really happy she got the recognition I think she has deserved for a while. And then I'm excited for Birta as well. She is a freshman who is coming in and working hard. She has has some areas she has to show some growth in, but at the same time, her effort levels, her attitude and her intensity level have been excellent. She has earned the respect of her teammates quickly and so I'm excited for her as well. Hopefully this is the first of many for her.
On the play of Eva van Deursen: Eva has been one of our most consistent and top performers all season. Not just (at UAB when she had two assists). She has been class, particularly with (Isabel Dehakiz and Alexia Delgado) being absent. She has taken control of the midfield for us and I'm really happy with her. She has been fantastic and I'm delighted for her performances.
On the strength of the opposition up to this point: Central Arkansas had some injuries when they played us and so they struggled a little bit against us. Southeastern Louisiana is going to win a lot of games in their season, they'll have a winning record, they'll be challenging for their conference championship and they were beating us late in the game. They caused us some problems but we did control and dominate the match. Mississippi State I felt we controlled the game from start to finish. There was a bit of chess match, but I felt that we were the stronger team considering the players who were absent for us. I thought we were fantastic especially with the players stepping up into new roles. And also players coming off the bench like Olivia Kearse-Thomas. She has really embraced her role coming off the bench and making an impact and so I'm really proud of her and the attitude and effort she is showing. And then UAB was a really physical team. At halftime we had three players sitting with (injured) ankles on the bench and I was a bit frustrated but all in all I think we showed a lot of quality in that game and we controlled it. UAB is a very good team as well. They were an athletic team with some good qualities and I think they will win some games in Conference USA.
On upcoming games: CSUN will be a challenge. They came here two years ago and tied us and so we know they are capable of getting a result. They have a lot of speed and they are capable of causing us some real problems. I'm looking forward to an exciting game. And then it starts to get really tough with LSU (on Sunday) and Nebraska and Texas Tech (next week). They are all Power 5 opponents. LSU is nationally ranked, Texas Tech is perennially in the NCAA Tournament and Nebraska has been in the tournament as well. They are all very good teams and we are going to need every healthy body we can find to stand a chance against any of them. All we can do right now is focus on the next game and right now that is CSUN.
On being recognized with Top 25 ranking (#21) this week: It is always nice to be ranked and recognized and I appreciate all the hard work that is put in by those who vote on that because it takes a lot of time. We are only four games (into the season) and so I think we'll know where we are within the country five or six games from now. If we are still ranked, then fantastic because it will mean we did some good things in some very difficult matches.
On the play of Olivia Nguyen : She is incredible and has been one of our best players. I'm so happy for her. If you meet her parents you will know the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. They are lovely people. And she is a lovely person and so when she is having this success it puts a smile on the face of everyone on the squad and everyone is so happy for her because she is so nice. She is (also) a real competitor. You can't tell her she can't do something because she is going to prove you wrong. I'm really happy for her because she has been phenomenal thus far. It's been asked, can she do the same thing against the better opponents? Well, Mississippi State is in the Power 5 and she set up the game-winning goal for Dougie. So the answer is, 'yes she can' and long may it continue. It is awesome when hometown players are (shining). Players such as Liv, (Olivia Kearse-Thomas, Callie Darst, Cori Sullivan, Julia Koharko, Lauren Kirberg). In addition to our great international players, we also have got great local kids who and that excites me.
On the play of other key performers: Callie (Darst) has been excellent and stepped up and created a strong partnership with Liske. I think Kiki (Stewart), who has not played as much in the past, has been asked to step into the some very big shoes – our captain, Alexia Delgado's shoes – and has done a wonderful job. Cori (Sullivan) is working extremely hard as well. What was really enjoyable during the UAB game, was watching and listening to players (who are on the bench and not playing at a given moment) cheering on their teammates and that for me it shows how far we have come. It is great to have that. Obviously things are better when you are winning and (percentages say) we are going to lose some games at some point, but hearing that is great.
On missing the on-field and off-the-field presence of Alexia Delgado: We are missing Alexia and what she brings because she is so good both on and off the pitch. She's so talented on the pitch and she's the best leader I've ever been around in 20 years and so we are going to miss her (for as long as she is out). When you are missing someone like Alexia, everyone has to step up and give you that much more every game. Kiki is giving more, Oliva is giving more, Eva is giving more, Dougie is giving more and (so forth). And we miss Alexia, but everyone else is stepping up just a little bit more to help compensate in her absence and that has to continue. And not just in her absence, but the seemingly endless list of players we are currently missing.