Knowledge Enterprise Development at Arizona State University issued the following announcement on Oct. 1
The Arizona State soccer team will continue the grueling Pac-12 schedule this week, hosting a pair of top-20 teams at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium. Action will get underway on Thursday with a 7:00 p.m. meeting with No. 5 USC, before the team closes the seventh week of the 2019 season with a 1:00 p.m. meeting with No. 16 UCLA on Sunday.
In their last outing, ASU extended their unbeaten streak to three games, with a 2-2 tie with Utah. The draw, the second straight for ASU, marked the first time in program history that the team has settled for a draw in back-to-back games. The tie also moved ASU to 5-5-2 all-time against the Utes.
Thursday's contest will officially start the second half of the 2019 season. Entering the week, ASU's remaining schedule ranks No. 1 (tied with Utah) with opposing teams boasting an incredible .810 win percentage on the year. Of the ten remaining opponents on the Sun Devils' schedule, eight are either ranked or receiving votes in the latest polls released this week.
"I just told the girls, what an opportunity. You have the remaining ten games against the hardest schedule in the country," head coach Graham Winkworth said of the team's remaining schedule. "We have all chosen to play at Arizona State University, and one of the reasons we have all chosen to come here is that we wanted to challenge ourselves against the very best. If the rest of the 2019 schedule is the toughest in the country, then we are certainly doing that. I just see it as an exciting opportunity to prove ourselves, and to prove that we belong in the Pac-12."
With the first ten games of the 2019 season behind them and ten tough Pac-12 regular-season matches ahead of them, the Sun Devils look to be showing signs of improvement through the first half of the season. On the offensive side of the ball, the Sun Devils have not been shutout a single time this season, and have already surpassed their goal-scoring production of three of the past four seasons. In goal, the defensive effort for the Sun Devils has been impressive as well, with just three teams finding the back of the net more than once, and two of those three matches having their second goal coming by way of a penalty kick.
"I am very happy that we have managed to score goals in all 10 games so far, and not just relying on one or two players," Winkworth said of the team's performance through the first half of the season. "We have managed to score goals from a number of different parts of the pitch, which is exciting for me. I think we are improving every day with our defending. We are trying to eliminate the mistakes that we have been making, and I think we are improving every day with our decision-making process."
A tough test awaits the Sun Devils in their Thursday contest as No. 5 USC will arrive in Tempe fresh off their first loss of 2019 against No. 2 Stanford last week. The Trojans have tallied impressive wins throughout non-conference play, defeating No. 6 Florida State and Florida in back-to-back games. The Trojan offense has displayed some of the best goal scorers in the Pac-12 to this point of the season, as both Tara McKeown and Penelope Hocking have tallied eight goals apiece - tied for second best in the Pac-12. In the net, goalkeeper Anna Smith has anchored the defense with 34 saves to 10 goals allowed through only six games. Her 34 saves is second-best in the conference.
"Well (Head Coach) Keidane (McAlpine) is a good friend of mine as is (Associate Head Coach) Jason (Lockhart). The pair of them have done a fantastic job since they've been at USC, and we know that they are one of the most well-organized, talented groups in the country," Winkworth said of Thursday's matchup against the Trojans. "Their front two in particular have been on fire, (Tara) McKeown and (Penelope) Hocking. They are very special players and we know that we are going to have to do our best to defend against such a talented duo. They are very gifted all over the park, so we are expecting a tough game, but at the same time, we have to remember the talent that we have. We have some very gifted players on our squad as well, and so as much as we need to eliminate their strongest factors on the pitch, we need to focus on what we can do well as well so that we can cause them some problems."
The Bruins opened Pac-12 play with a 2-1 loss to Cal after an impressive run through their non-conference schedule, winning four straight matches to start the year. Similar to USC, the Bruins earned key victories over No. 6 Florida State and Florida in back-to-back matchups, while shutting out No. 22 Wisconsin at home. The Bruins attack is led by junior Ashley Sanchez and freshman Mia Fishel, both leading the team with 10 points through nine games played. Sanchez returns to the club after earning first-team All-American honors a season ago, as well as being selected as a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy in 2018.
"If I am completely honest, I have not really watched too much of them because I can't look past USC," Winkworth said of Sunday's matchup against UCLA. "Having two top-10 teams like this in one weekend is always a challenge when you really want to focus on every game particularly well. UCLA is one of the most naturally talented, individually and collectively, teams in the nation and we know that we are going to be in for another massive test on Sunday afternoon, but until we play USC I haven't really focused on them too much."
Following this week's games, the Sun Devils will hit the road to take on the Washington schools in the Pacific Northwest, Oct. 10 and Oct. 13. The Sun Devils will begin their first conference road trip at Washington next Thursday at 7:00 p.m. PT, before wrapping up the weekend with a 1:00 p.m. meeting with the Cougars on Sunday, the 13th. Fans can follow all of the action from the 2019 season by following @SunDevilSoccer on Twitter and Instagram.
Original source can be found here.