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Graham Winkworth Q&A Week Seven

Sep 30, 2021

THE GAME: Sun Devil Soccer (8-1-1, 0-0-1 Pac-12) vs. No. 21 USC (6-2, 1-0 Pac-12)
WHEN: Thursday at 6 p.m. MST
WHERE: Sun Devil Soccer Stadium • Click here to purchase tickets
WATCH: Pac-12 Arizona (Cable or satellite log-in required) 
LIVE STATS: Click here

Head coach Graham Winkworth reflects on the Pac-12 opener at Washington, the difficult challenges that No. 21 USC and No. 3 UCLA will pose, what it meant to get wins over those schools last season, and several other topics. 
Any additional thoughts on last week's game at Washington after reviewing the film?
We basically need to do a better job in not giving away so many easy set pieces and defending them better. Outside of that I thought it was a good game… The goals we conceded were not from open play. They weren't from defensive areas. They were from areas that we were conceding soft set pieces and we didn't defend those set pieces well, but in open play we defended very well. And so I was very happy with the back line on Friday.
How important is the mental aspect of defending set pieces?
When you get tired you forget little details. If you see the two goals Washington scored, the players know they need to be higher when defending that set piece. And it happened a couple of times in the game. We learn from those errors, but it is a good opportunity to grow from them. A lot of mental errors can happen during set piece play for sure.
What is harder to defend, the initial set piece or the chaos, if you will, after it is played?
Both. That can also depend upon the opponent. Some teams are better at winning that first ball and attacking the goal with that first ball. Other teams try to create chaos and we have to be good at defending the second and third balls. Both are equally important and just as dangerous, but it varies from opponent to opponent. We are not a tall team and so we have to be very organized because there are teams that are taller than us and are more dangerous with set pieces than us and so we have to do a good job defending.
How much of lift was it for the team to get some of its missing players back last week?
Alexia, Eva, Keri, Lieske, Tahlia, a whole bunch of players have been out for a large period of time and having them back in training this week elevated the mood because they are such good leaders and such positive people. But they also elevated the quality because they are all very good players. Our team did a good job while they were gone, but it is a fact these players are very talented and so having them back in practice elevated everyone's level of play.
How long does it take players to get back and be impactful after being away from injury?
You can't go from nothing to 100 percent and so it was important for us to get them on the pitch on Friday to get them minutes. It was difficult, especially with Lieske because Lauren Kirby did a fantastic job in the first half and Lieske did a great job in the second half. Kirby did nothing wrong. She did a great job in Lieske's absence. But we need to make sure the returning players get match fitness when they haven't been training. 
On Keri Matthews' debut: 
I took her aside before the game and told her, 'You haven't played in five months. You haven't had a lot of practice since preseason started and so you really can't do anything wrong. The pressure is off. Just go out there and enjoy yourself and work hard and build those minutes and work on your match fitness.' Having said that, she worked in a couple of very nice crosses, one of which we hit the post from and she is very good in that area and then she almost scored but for a very good save from the Washington goalkeeper and so it is good she is putting herself in those positions and causing problems and I think she will continue to get better as the season goes on. And maybe by the end of the season and certainly next year, you are going to see an incredible wide player.
On if the team has to have a different mentality when it is ranked:
I was joking with (assistant coach Jo Chubb), it seems like every time we have gotten ranked in the past, we get beat the week after and it almost happened at Colorado College. We managed to get the victory, but it wasn't a really commanding performance. Friday (at Washington) was much better, but having the spring we had, I don't think we are under anyone's radar anymore. We are getting ready to play two of the best teams in the nation, but we are not under their radar anymore either. We know we are going to get their best effort because of the spring. Both teams have very good coaches and will not underestimate us either, but having said that, we have a belief that we might not have had if we didn't have the season we had in the spring. It is great being ranked and we enjoy those moments, but ultimately, we are more concerned with overall wins and losses at the end of the year than now. But it is nice and it was great that this team achieved the all-time highest ranking in program history.
On what the USC win did for the team last season: 
I think that was probably the first time we believed. As coaches, we have always believed in our players, but there is us believing in them and then there is them believing in themselves. I think after that game they realized they could play with teams like USC and UCLA. They are incredibly talented teams, but we need to value what we have and we have some very good, hardworking players on our team. And now they believe they have an opportunity every single game. We know we are not going to win every game, but we know winning any game is possible.
And then how big was the win at UCLA? 
It was huge. From a recruiting standpoint, you know there are lot of players – younger players – looking at ASU with different eyes because they are now seeing the goals we have for the program slowly come to fruition. We have always said we can be a Top 25 team and higher and that is starting to happen. While we may not win every match, we know we can play with anyone. It is helping with recruiting for sure because we are getting some very special players taking a good look at this program. Not only are we in a nice place to play, but the long-term future of the program is protected because of wins like that.
On what to expect from USC:
They have some of the best attacking talent in the nation. I say their front four, but then they bring players in off the bench who are just as talented. Just incredible talent and well-coached. We expect to probably see their 4-4-2 with maybe two false nines. They have such depth and talent, particularly going forward. We did some things at home against them a couple of years ago and we lost the game with a late free kick, we went down to 10 (players). But we did some things in that game to deal with their front two and we are looking at that very much for this game as well and so we are excited to try that and see what we can do against a really talented offensive team.
On the team's health:
We've had a couple more who have suffered some knocks this week, but we are moving in the right direction with regards to the players who have been coming available and I think that will enable us to play two-game weekends like this weekend with a little more rotation and allow us to have enough fresh legs to be able to give both opponents good games, something we have struggled with in past years where we would give our first opponent a really good game and then struggle on Sunday afternoon. I think we have more talent and depth now and I think that can only be a good thing when we try and challenge opponents (like USC and UCLA) because they are two of the best teams in the country.
On how fast the season moves and if that is talked about:
(The short length of the season is ) unfortunate. I personally would be in favor of a year-round model, one game a week. That way when a player has an ankle sprain they are missing 3-4 games instead of 6-8 games. It is something we talk to the team about and as they see the time fly so fast we tell them to enjoy the moments even though they are working so hard on and off the field. They need to make sure they enjoy the ride because these are going to be some of the best years of their life. I look back at my college days and I wish I had opportunities like this. It is very fast and time flies because it doesn't feel like 20 years ago I started doing this. 
Cori Sullivan created a PK last week at Washington. Talk about what she brings to the team.
Cori is one of the hardest working players on the team which is what gets her on the pitch. We have talked to her about how important she is to us, particularly from the defensive side of the ball with our attacking players. When people think of defense, they think about the back four and goalkeeper, but we defend as 11 and we attack as 11 and she is the first part of our defense and the last part of our attack. And so we have talked to her about how important she has been so far this season with her work rate, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And she works extremely hard offensively as well and has been a little unlucky in front of the goal, but she is working hard to change that luck and we are proud of her for that and I'm sure the next goal for her is just around the corner.
On this year's freshman class:
We've got some incredible freshmen here. They work very hard on the pitch but what is most lovely about this group is that when we started working with them in August, they had already been here 5-6 weeks hanging out with their teammates, working hard presumably with the strength and conditioning staff and when we started working with them, it almost felt like they had been here years the way they were communicating with their teammates. We are very lucky to work with an incredible group of people.
Given how much attention she is given by the opposing team, what does it say about Nicole Douglas when she still finds ways to score?
For every goal she scores, the more difficult it becomes because more people will pay attention to her. It kind of works in waves because players like Eva, Liv and Cori were scoring more goals earlier in the season and so you could not only focus on marking Dougie. Because of that, Dougie is scoring more goals. Even though there is a lot of attention on her she is still managing to score the goals which is a testament to her. We need to start scoring more goals from different areas again because the more we do that, the more space will open up for Dougie. And the great thing is, now we have the ability to do just that. Liv is dangerous. She hit the post on Friday. Cori is getting in good positions to score. Keri came on and got into a good position to score. Kennedy, Dai and Olive have been looking good in practice and have been getting in position to score. And that is just the attacking players which means you can't just focus on Dougie. Having said that, she is very good.