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Arizona soccer to participate in Sun Devil Desert Classic this weekend

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Arizona Athletics

Three games have provided three different results for the Arizona women’s soccer team to begin the 2016 season.

The Wildcats lost their season-opener 3-1 to Pepperdine on the road, then beat Utah Valley 5-1 in Tucson, then tied 2-2 against No. 16 Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.

Something will have to give when the Wildcats head to Tempe this weekend for two games in the Sun Devil Desert Classic.

RELATEDThe trip to Tempe is a homecoming for several Wildcats

The Denver Pioneers are Arizona’s first opponent of the weekend.

“They’re a team that likes to get their outside backs forward and wants to possess the ball,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said. “Their goal kicks will go far, their free kicks will go far, but mainly, they’re trying to keep the ball and build an attack. We want to make sure we don’t allow them to get four or five passes in a row, so we’ll try to break that up and once we get it, we have to connect that first pass out and when we do that, we’re a different team.”

The Pioneers, members of the Summit League, are 1-3 this season and have been outscored 7-2 by opponents this season. “I’m expecting us to make sure that we do everything in our power to keep them out of the back of the net,” Amato said. “One of their players, [Leah Swander], has a majority of their shots.”

The Pioneers have taken 40 shots this season and Swander has accounted for 21 of them, giving her a team-high by a wide margin.

“We expect them to play through her a little bit and we need to make sure she doesn’t hurt us,” Amato said.

While the Pioneers have been outscored 7-2 this season, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents 7- 3 in the last two games.

Amato credits his team’s defense for the recent offensive surge.

“When we defend well, it leads to attacking chances,” he said. “When you start back with the Utah Valley game, we did a good job of disrupting what they were doing and that led to rebounds and goals and chances and corners and free kicks. We want to make sure we do that on Friday.”

Arizona’s defense could be getting a boost this weekend. Sophomore goalkeeper Lainey Burdett, who has yet to make her season debut because of an illness, returned to practice this week and will be available in Tempe, barring any setbacks.

“You never know if there are any fatigue issues,” Amato said. “Sometimes you get little tweaks because you haven’t been in training. So if there aren’t any setbacks, I would suspect that she would play some role this weekend.”

RELATED: Arizona soccer not fazed by 100-degree heat

Freshman Meredith Reinhardt has been starting in Burdett’s place and has been “solid,” according to Amato. But Burdett’s return will certainly be a welcomed addition.

Along with being a more experienced goalkeeper, Burdett’s leadership—specifically her tendency to direct the defense in front of her—is much-needed for the Wildcats’ young backline.

As Amato noted, the better Arizona’s defense is, the better its offense is. The Wildcats have outshot opponents 51-34 this season.

Kickoff against Denver at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.

The Wildcats will face Columbia at 11 a.m., Sunday, to conclude the weekend. The Lions, who play ASU on Friday, are 1-1 this season.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.


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