Graham Winkworth Q&A Week Eight
THE GAME: Sun Devil Soccer (8-3-1, 0-2-1 Pac-12) at Oregon State (9-2, 1-2 Pac-12)
WHEN: Thursday at 6 p.m. MST
WHERE: Lorenz Field • Corvallis, Ore.
WATCH: OSU Live Stream
LIVE STATS: Click here
Sun Devil Soccer head coach Graham Winkworth talks about why in ASU's near upset of No. 3 UCLA the game featured two halves of play that could not have been more different, what makes this year's team so special to work with, the positive attitude the team always maintains and his thoughts on the two difficult road assignments ASU has this weekend at Oregon State (Thursday at 6 p.m.) and at Oregon (Sunday at 12 p.m.).
What contributed to having such contrasting halves against UCLA where the two teams combined for six goals in the first half and then neither team was able to score at all in the second half?
When we went up 3-1 (in the first half) they made some changes that pretty much closed the game off. They sort of matched us a little bit more on the pitch rather than playing a more diverse formation. And so, the first part of the game was really open. There probably would have been a whole lot more goals for both teams [in the second half if neither team changed what they were doing] which might have been a whole lot more exciting for the neutral. We also sat a little bit deeper in the second half and that's partly through design and partly doe to fatigue. In the second half of the second game of the weekend you run out of juice a little bit. So there were a whole bunch of contributing factors, but it made for an exciting game for the fans.
On the team's ability to compete with the nation's best teams despite not being at full strength:
We have been fabulous and have able to compete with the best teams week in and week out. We have played very good teams and so the fact that we have competed so well all season long – even if we were at full strength – speaks volumes to the efforts the players have put in over the last year and a half and so I'm really proud of them. I'm especially proud of them because of all the challenges and adversity they have faced this season.
What do you want people to know about this team beyond what they see on the field?
I think the thing I want people to know about this team more than anything is how amazing they are as people away from the soccer field. You see their talents and you see their work rate and you see how amazing they are on the pitch week in and week out; multiply that by 10 and that's who we get to work with and spend time with on a daily basis. Being around them is a joy. They are just special people. After their time here, many of them will go on to play professional soccer and all of them will go on to be a professional in some field some day and I can't wait to follow this particular group's lives beyond ASU because there are going to be a lot of successful women in this group. I'm really excited about their futures.
On the quality of the Pac-12 thus far:
The Pac-12 is amazing and to play against such quality teams every week is fun, enjoyable, nerve-wracking and intense. And that's what we sign up for and so it is important that we enjoy every moment and opportunity playing against players who are representing countries from all over the world. It was great having a home weekend and now we have to prepare for another really tough weekend. Oregon State has only lost twice this season and Oregon has lost just once. There are going to be really difficult matches and then on top of that they are on the road. I'm not expecting it to be 95 degrees this weekend so we'll be adjusting to a different climate and setting and we will just enjoy being together as a team and will look to give both opponents a strong showing.
On having the team scoring goals in different ways in Sunday's game vs. UCLA:
Yes, they were three very different goals. And the important thing is they are goals. I don't care if they are beautiful top corner goals or beautiful dribbles like Dougie's or 1-2s like Eva or a smacking header from Jaz. Those goals were all beautiful. No matter how we score I will think it's fantastic. But it is nice that we were scoring from different areas and in different ways. We just have to stop conceding them. We have to do better at the other end of the pitch and defend certain areas better. When 50 percent of goals have been conceded from set pieces we have to do a better job of A) not conceding them and B) defending them.
On the challenge of injured players regaining their game fitness when they have missed an extended period of time:
That is the thing is we have missed so many players for much of the season. It is great we are starting to get them back but they are not match fit and so we are trying to get them back there and they are having to develop that match fitness while playing the No. 3 team in the nation (UCLA). If we were healthy earlier in the season and had more players available then they would have gotten that match fitness during the non-conference portion of our schedule and then we would be at our peak right now, the time of year we need to be playing our best. And so right now we are just fighting to get fit. I'm trying to get minutes to those players who need the minutes. And the other thing is we really only get one practice session each week because of the way the league schedule is structured. So, in addition to trying to gain the match fitness, they are also challenged by not practicing with one another frequently and it makes it more difficult getting used to playing with each other again. It has been frustrating, but I'm really proud of the team for the way they handled that adversity and managed to pick up some results during those challenging times because it hasn't been easy for them.
And because of that and a number of other reasons, you have mentioned you'd be in favor of having one game per week?
There is no time to train. I'm a big fan of the one game per week model. How could that work? Maybe it is year round? Maybe we start earlier or finish later. I don't know. I'm in favor of playing one game a week and developing these players so they can go on to play for their national teams, go on to play professionally and have the spring mean something. And I don't want to speak for them, but [based on the discussions I've had about that with players in the past] I think they would be more in favor of that. That way if someone is away for their national team or if someone has an ankle sprain, they are missing one or two games and not four or five or more. The [current format] is really short and we love the intensity of it, but we would like to spread it out a little bit more so injuries don't have such a major effect. That said, it is what it is. You have to embrace whatever the rules are and so we'll do the best we can with what we are given and we will continue to fight and work hard for one another.
On this week's opponents, Oregon State and Oregon:
Two really hardworking teams and both very well coached. [Oregon head coach] Graeme [Abel] is in his second season and Coach [Lauren] Sinacola is doing a fantastic job at OSU. They started really well and have played played like they had a point to prove and so they have had a fantastic season so far. Last year we were fortunate to get a result at Oregon State. Both teams have a lot of talent and we expect difficult games against both of them playing on their home fields. We are excited about the opportunity to get out there and play again. We just have to shake off [last week's near upsets of USC and UCLA]. You can't get too low after a defeat or too high after a victory.
After taking a closer look at last week's games, did anything stick out that didn't in the immediate aftermath of both contests?
I think our reactions have been really positive. This is a really self-aware group. We've pointed out and shown them film of areas where they need to do better but they are already aware of it. They had a great attitude in training. It was a very intense and productive session. They have great character and are a great group of players and so I'm just really excited for this weekend. This is a fun group to be around and so on these road trips we work on team bonding because we didn't get to do that during Covid. And hopefully we'll have some positive results to go with the great experience we always have spending time together.
On how the benefit of having a team with so many experienced players:
You have players who are mature enough to understand the importance of being ready to play the next game no matter the result of the one you just played. They understand we need to defend certain areas from last week's games. However, we just played two of the best teams in the country and we were so close to winning both games. We are getting there and we are right there. And as we get to be match fit hopefully we can get the positive result to go