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Graham Winkworth Q&A Week Six

Sep 23, 2021

THE GAME: No. 15 Sun Devil Soccer (8-1, 0-0 Pac-12) at Washington (2-4-1, 0-0 Pac-12)
WHEN: Friday at 7 p.m. MST
WHERE: Husky Soccer Stadium • Seattle
WATCH: Pac-12 Network/Arizona/Washington (Cable or satellite log-in required) 
LIVE STATS: Click here

Head coach Graham Winkworth looks back on last week's win at Colorado College, opening up Pac-12 play at Washington, the strength of the Pac-12 and how the team has had several players step up and help the team maintain its current level of success. 
ASU's current No. 15 ranking in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 is its highest ranking in program history while its eight wins in nine games are surpassed only by the 2000 team that started the season 9-0.

In the immediate aftermath of last week's win, you mentioned you were disappointed with the team's quality of play in the game. Did anything change after reviewing the tape? 
Well, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful campus. From a soccer standpoint, no not really. We were poor and the team would say the same thing. It was not a good representation of what we have been doing. However, having said that, we were playing one of the most underrated teams in this part of the country at 7,000 feet altitude on a plastic pitch that made the ball really bouncy and hard to control and we did all that with all the injuries we have and so to come away with a result, even if it was 1-0 in double overtime, it speaks to our resilience and character and I'm really happy with the outcome.
So basically, the team just did enough to win last week?
Colorado College was set up very well, very organized. Defensively they were very good. After watching the film, we missed a couple of very strong chances where we didn't get off shots. They would have been very high percentage chances but we didn't get a shot away. We created a little more than I thought, but we have to do better than that if we are going to have success in the Pac-12.
The Pac-12 has traditionally been known as one of the top if not the best conference in the country in soccer. Unfortunately the RPI does not reflect that right now.
We've played some really tough teams. But the problem with the west in general is you can have some very good teams like Colorado College and other good teams in California that are really good teams with losing records and when you play them and win it doesn't help your RPI because even though you are playing very good teams. Losing those games can really hurt you. And that is what has happened within the Pac-12. The Pac-12 doesn't have the strongest RPI right now but they are having to play better competition (in the region) than some of the teams in other parts of the country. When I was at South Alabama, we could play teams from certain conferences, win and get massively winning records and then the Power 5 teams would come in and play us and would take our record (and help their RPI). You have to remember, 50 percent of the RPI is our opponent's won-loss percentage. And so it is very difficult to find teams with massive winning records in the west because everyone beats up on each other. Tha said, the Pac-12 is far better than what the current RPI is stating. And it will move up as the season goes on, but maybe not as far as it should.
On this week's opponent, Washington:
Really good, really fast, really athletic, high pressing, hardworking… everything we saw when we played them in the spring. They have one of the best trio of midfield players in the country in my opinion. They've got athleticism up top as well on the wings and at the center forward position. Lots of athletes on the outside as well. They will be a massive challenge. They are certainly way better than (their) 2-4-1 (record). You have to remember their record includes the opening weekend against Duke and North Carolina. And so they are a really good team. We are expecting a really difficult challenge just like we got from them in the spring.
In addition to the challenge presented weekly by the opposition, the team has also had to deal with the internal weekly challenge of injuries. How difficult has it been to maintain the current success despite all the players who have been missing? 
It seems to get worse almost daily. We just lost another player for the season. It is frightening. I've never seen anything like it. I have no words for it because we certainly don't overtrain and we do everything we can to keep the players safe. Many of our top players have not been playing all season (because of injury) or because of being away on international duty. Maybe in a week or two, if not three weeks, we should hopefully start getting some of those bodies back and we'll become a different squad all together. Having said that, the players who have been in have offered incredible effort and they work so hard. We have an attitude that we are not going to get outworked and these young ladies are incredible. I mean, we have asked them to play in different positions and I am so proud of how hard they are working and the support they have provided throughout. If we don't get some of (the injured players) back soon then we are going to run out of bodies eventually.
This has to be an incredibly valuable experience for the players stepping up and helping the team maintain the level of success it has had this season?
In the spring we constantly talked about it being a lemonade season – that we were going to make lemonade with all the lemons we were served. And we did. And right now, our lemonade in this situation is we have players who might not necessarily have been getting the type of minutes that they have been earning… getting all this experience. When we become deeper and more experienced, that does so many things. One, it gives us more options. Two, it makes practices so much better because the players who were starting now have to compete for those places. And third, we have opportunities to rest players, give them a chance to charge their batteries and also gives us more options in different positions. And so this is an exciting time to get to play different players. But we are at the point now where we definitely need to get a few players back because the level of competition is going to take a step up and it will be really difficult if we can't get these bodies back. I know our doctors and athletic trainers are working extremely hard to help with that and so hopefully in a couple weeks we'll see those bodies back.
For those who haven't scored or scored as much and have a proven ability to score, how important is it just to get that first goal from a confidence standpoint?
As a forward, scoring your first goal of the season is important. I think it takes the weight off your shoulders a little bit. But we've got to score more goals from different areas. It is going to be increasingly difficult now because the defenses are going to get better and better starting on Friday. It's nice to score from different areas, but if we are scoring I'm OK with it. It doesn't really matter who scores. It's nice for Dougie moving up the (ASU career) charts but I know Dougie would always take success of her team over her own personal success and I think that is our character throughout the team which is nice.
Talk about how well the back line has played, especially with the injuries?
I think they are doing really well considering Lucy Johnson missed a game, Jayda at the beginning of the season was struggling with something as well. Jess has been getting some of her form back which is also good. Callie has been there all the time. Lieske has not been in for a little while now. Talia has been out as well. And Olivia Coleman went in and did a great job but then she had to come out and Lauren Kirby goes in and does the job and so we haven't really had a settle back four which is challenging because it's a part of the field you'd like to be a little more consistent. It has been a huge challenge and so all credit to them because they have worked extremely hard.
And given all that, you also have a true freshman currently starting at goalkeeper: 
I think it fills the players in front of her with a lot of confidence if your goalkeeper is confident as well. Birta has done a good job of communicating and I think that the players in front of her see that. She had a very good game against Colorado College. If she didn't pull off a couple of those saves we would have lost the game. She was the player of the game.