No. 20 Sun Devil Soccer travels north to face Colorado College on Friday
ASU head soccer coach Graham Winkworth looks back on last week's wins vs. Nebraska and then-No. 21 Texas Tech in Tucson and previews the team's upcoming game at Colorado College on Friday. Currently ranked No. 20 in the country, the Sun Devils have their best record after eight games (7-1) since 2000 when the team was 8-0 (would eventually reach 9-0).
On last week's games: "I think the first game we played really well in the first half against Nebraska. We played really hard, but also some nice, creative soccer. The second half was more of a grind and we battled and deserved to get the victory. And it was nice to keep a clean sheet against such a good opponent. And then Texas Tech, they are extremely fast and physical and talented and we couldn't give them certain parts of the pitch to enable them to use their strengths and so we tried to take those areas away and I think we did because we limited them to shots mostly from long distance. And that is absolutely fine. I think the timing of (Olivia Kearse-Thomas') goal (late in the first half) was perfect to give us that momentum and then to get another couple goals quickly in the second half was fantastic. But you can't discount Texas Tech. They came flying back and at the end of the game we were holding on. I felt like in both games we demonstrated a high amount of character to fight."
On Olivia Kearse-Thomas' performance: "I'm really happy with her play. She is doing a great job. She has started some games and come off the bench in others and actually she has really embraced that role because she said to me she felt like she could make an impact coming off the bench when we spoke in the spring. And she has definitely been doing that and I'm really proud of her. And she is working hard and that is really paying dividends. She is creating chances. And even though (Nicole Douglas and Kearse-Thomas) don't actually play together very often, they are almost like a partnership because they are playing the same role and giving each other opportunities and breaks. And so I think she has really embraced that role and is having an excellent season so far.
"She has put herself in the right place at the right time. She scored a goal at UAB – and it was an easy finish for her – but if she had not put herself in position to score then she doesn't score the goal and that is the hardest part of it. And then it was a nice finish against Texas Tech on Sunday. For an attacking player, finishing is not an easy part, but having the mindset to get yourself into position, that is a difficult thing to do and she has done that a couple of times now."
On Dai Williams' pass to set up Kearse-Thomas: "Dai went at a couple of defenders and drove at them and that's what I encourage her to do. I don't care if she makes mistakes, I don't care if (the ball) goes off her shins and goes for a goal kick. I want her to be brave enough to have a go at players because she's got the skillset to hurt teams and that was her third assist of the season and she causes problems. She set up Kennedy (Mayo) with a similar one earler in the season and so she's got to continue to do those things and make an impact that way."
On Jayda Hylton-Pelaia's attacking ability: "She's good on the dribble. Good dribblers are very dangerous to defend when they go flying into you the way (Texas Tech) did on Sunday and she was knocked to the ground. And you have to be brave – especially as a fullback – to put yourself into the opposing team's penalty area because if you lose possession, it's a long way back to your own goal and so she was brave enough to do that and drew a penalty for the second time this season."
On the team's ability to defend Texas Tech's 13 corner kicks: "We were disappointed to concede a goal from one, but at the same time we blocked two shots in that buildup and it ricocheted to their player. It was really unfortunate for us. We work so hard on defensive corner kicks and making sure we are prepared for each opponent. I used to be concerned a lot more when other teams had set pieces going into our box, but I feel the team is prepared and full of confidence for those occasions now. We have to continue to put our head on balls and we are doing that."
How often does it happen where everyone does what they are supposed to in order to prevent a goal but a goal is still scored? "There are occasions where you take your hat off to the opponent and say (a scoring play) was special. But I'm a coach and so I always feel when another team scores a goal, there was a way of preventing it. Let's take the free kick goal vs. (Texas Tech). Did we need to commit the foul in the first place? They made a short pass and the time that elapsed before their player actually struck the ball. Why didn't we closed that down? Could we have blocked that shot like we blocked five other shots during the game? And so as a coach, there are always little details we are looking for to get better. But having said that, it was a wonderfully struck goal by (Texas Tech's Charlotte Teeter) and all credit to her because there are too not many people who are going to stop that. But as a coach, we want to win the perfect game every single time."
Is hard it for players to see the big picture (e.g. how a foul may affect the game) in the moment? "It is very difficult because we are asking the players to fight and battle and win challenges and then we also have to have them cognitive of where those challenges are taking place. You don't want to be knocking over people in or around the penalty area, but at the same time, they also think, 'I want to win my challenges,' and so sometimes the heart can take over the head and that is not always a bad thing. But when you are trying to manage a game and you are up 3-1, sometimes the head has to manage the heart a little bit. But we are a young team at the moment (with all our injuries). I will always take the heart for sure."
Given the choice, any coach would rather be up 3-0 than down 3-0. Can you characterize the pressure the team faced after Texas Tech got within a goal? "Yes, it can be a lot of pressure. Those last 20 minutes (when ASU was up 3-2) we went through a stage where they were pretty much all over us at that point and we had to find a way to calm the game down and slow the game down and take the momentum back. And so it is important when the ball goes out of play or we get the ball in the attack, just to slow the game down. And I think we did a reasonable job of that. We have certain players on our squad who are very good at managing the momentum of a match. Alexia Delgado and Eva van Deursen, for example are seasoned veterans in the midfield who help us to control the pace of a game and whether we want it to be a high tempo game or slow it down and so obviously when you are missing those players that type of situation becomes more difficult but we did a wonderful job handling it."
What other performances stood out from the weekend? "I think we did a great job at outside back. The back four were phenomenal all weekend because the only goals we conceded were from set pieces. We did not concede a goal against Nebraska or Texas Tech from open play and so the whole back four were incredible. I think (Jazmine Wilkinson) really stepped it up in the absence of Eva and Alexia and Isabel. I think Jaz really stepped it up against Texas Tech and I was really proud of her efforts. Kiki Stewart has been working hard all season. Nicole Douglas was flying around the field and deserves a lot of credit as well. I liked the celebration she and Jaz had after she scored on the penalty kick because to take a penalty kick when a referee has taken time to walk half the pitch to go and book an opposing member of staff and then come back; that is a lot of time to be standing there looking at the goal and a lot could be going through a player's mind and so for Dougie to show the calmness to put the ball in the way she did I thought took a lot of character."
What are the challenges playing on a different surface like the team will be doing on Friday? "I don't think it's too bad, there are no excuses. We have a beautiful training facility here (that has a similar field to what Friday's game will be played on) and we have practiced on it. No real challenges. We'll just get used to playing on it during the week. The ball bounces a little different. People think it is a fast playing surface and it is only a fast surface if it is wet. If it is dry then it is a slow playing surface so you have to put a little more on the passes to make sure they get there. And those are the little details we worked on during practice. We'll be able to perform to our standard if we have a good attitude on Friday."
What are some of the challenges Colorado College poses? "They have played a very good schedule against good teams and they are way better than their results would suggest. This is a game where we must be extremely professional and with some of our personnel missing, we must make sure the next player up is ready to battle and perform at the same level we have over the last few weeks. They have some good, athletic players on their team. They are very strong defensively and they are good on set pieces and so we are going to have to be at our best if we are going to get a positive result."