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Soccer report card: Arizona Wildcats get high marks

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Keenan Turner

Ryan Revock/The Daily Wildcat

Arizona soccer has now reached the halfway point of its season, 10 games in, which means it’s time for a progress report.

Under the leadership of first-year head coach Tony Amato, the Wildcats are off to one of their best starts in program history at 5-2-3, with much of the credit due to the offense. Arizona is currently tied with Stanford for first in the Pac-12 with 24 goals scored, which is highly efficient considering the Wildcats are only fifth in the conference in total shots, with 168.

Defensively, the Wildcats are still a work in progress. At 10 goals allowed so far this season, Arizona is tied for eighth in the Pac-12 and hasn’t recorded a shutout since its early September matchup against then-No. 24 Ohio State.

By position group, here’s how the Wildcats score:

*Defenders/goalkeeping: C *

Arizona’s defense had a strong start to the season, as it shut out three of its first four opponents, but defensive struggles have cropped up recently, with five goals allowed in the Wildcats’ last three games. For comparison’s sake, Washington State has only allowed three goals all season, which leads the Pac-12.

The Wildcats’ defense needs to be tighter in its coverage. Too many clear shots on goal have been given up so far this season, especially from just outside the penalty box.

Junior goalkeeper Gabby Kaufman has been solid with her 42 saves this year, tied for second best in the conference.

*Midfielders: B *

Midfield play has been the most consistent position for the Wildcats so far this season, led by senior Jazmin Ponce. Ponce, who was a first-team All-Pac-12 performer last season, looks to be headed there again with her team-leading six goals. Fellow seniors Shannon Heinzler and Ana-Maria Montoya have provided a strong presence in the defensive midfield while freshman Jaden DeGracie, who has been playing out on the wing, leads the Wildcats with five assists.

As a whole, the midfielders have done a good job taking care of the ball and controlling possession, which has led to plenty of opportunities for the Wildcats’ attack.

Forwards: B

If the midfielders have been the most consistent group for Arizona this season, the forwards have probably been the most unpredictable. The Wildcats’ offense has looked unstoppable at times, with a pair of six-goal outbursts and two four-goal performances. However, at other times, the scoring just hasn’t been there when they needed it. Losses to ranked teams Texas Tech and UCLA might have been avoided if Arizona’s attack had taken advantage of the opportunities created for it.

Junior college transfer Ali Doller has been an important pickup for the Wildcats’ front with her four goals and two assists. Sophomores Hannah Wong and Kaitlyn Lopez have chipped in with three goals apiece.

Coaching: A

Amato has been a winner everywhere he has coached in his young career, and this season with the Wildcats has been no different. Arizona soccer has struggled mightily these past few years, finishing last in the Pac-12 last season and only collecting one win in 2011, but Amato has brought a new attitude to the program and the results speak for themselves. Arizona still faces a daunting Pac-12 schedule and has already dropped its first conference game to then-No. 4 UCLA, but Amato certainly has the Wildcats going in the right direction.

— Follow Brian Peel @BrianPeel91

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