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Arizona soccer: Wildcats look to overcome history, upset No. 14 UCLA on Thursday night

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Alex McIntyre
Arizona midfielder Lexe Selman Richards (13) battles Utah midfielder Katie Rogers (3) as they chase after the ball at Murphey Field at Mulcahy Soccer Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016.

The Arizona soccer team will take its home field Thursday night with history heavily against it. 

Taking the other end of the field will be No. 14 UCLA, a team that Arizona has only beat one time in 22 tries since the UA soccer program was founded in 1994. That lone Arizona win was in 2004.

That gives the Bruins a .955 winning percentage against Arizona over the past two decades and change, and the two teams find themselves having much different seasons heading into Thursday’s game. 

UCLA arrives in Tucson with a 9-3-1 overall record, a 3-1-1 Pac-12 Conference record, a perfect 5-0 road record and a top-15 ranking. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are 6-6-1 overall, 1-4 in the Pac-12 and have lost five of their last six games.

So, how can Arizona pull off the upset?

“It’s really about the attitude, mentality and approach,” Arizona head coach Tony Amato said. “They’re obviously good and that record says that. We’ve had a hard time historically against them, but I think we can put together an effort that we can be proud of.”

Don’t get beat by the name on the shirt—that’s been Amato’s message to his team this week. In other words, Arizona has to treat UCLA the same as any other quality opponent.

“They’re athletic, they’re fast and they’re competitive,” Arizona midfielder Jaden DeGracie-Bailey said. “They’re a great team and we haven’t had the best track record in the past playing them, and so I think it’s just their name is what gets us sometimes.”

The senior will play the Bruins for the fourth time in her career Thursday, while still looking for her first victory. 

“Everybody approaches them as ‘they’re UCLA,’ not ‘they’re just another good team we’re playing.’” DeGracie-Bailey said. “And so I think if we can approach it as every other game and put our heart on the line, then good things will happen.”

RELATED: Arizona soccer’s ‘ACL twins’ take on the recovery trail together

UCLA either leads or sits in the top three in all three major offensive categories in the Pac-12—assists, goals and points. The Bruins have several weapons at their disposal even though one of their top scorers, Darian Jenkins, is out for the year with a knee injury.

One of those weapons is freshman Jessie Fleming, who is a member of the Canadian National Team. Fleming leads the Bruins in goals, tallying eight on the season, which is third-best in the Pac-12.

“She scored goals in the Olympics this summer, so that’s obviously someone on the scouting report that we’ll have to contain,” Amato said. “But if you don’t defend, anyone on their team can score. So we’ll have take care of everybody.”

That’s been exactly the case the last two times Arizona has faced UCLA—the Bruins outscored the Wildcats 11-1. Amato acknowledged his gameplan has to change for Thursday’s match-up.

“The last two times, my gameplan didn’t work. So we’re going to have to make a few adjustments,” Amato said. “We’re going to have to close the field down and try to minimize the space they play in because they are a team that can pass through small spaces, can run at you in big spaces, and so we’re going to have to keep the field much smaller than we did last year.”

The hope is that the game plays out similarly to UCLA’s last visit to Tucson, when it squeaked by with a 2-1 win in 2013—Amato’s first year as Arizona’s head coach.

“We played them tight my first season here … and if you go back to our approach that year … we weren’t beaten by the name on the shirt,” Amato said. “They’re just another team that you have to prepare for and go after and hopefully that will be our approach. We want to fight, battle and be competitive and hopefully find a way to win a game.”

Taking history into account, it’ll certainly be a long shot for Arizona to find a way to win Thursday. But at minimum, the Wildcats are looking to put a strong performance together.

“The word we’re talking about now is being proud,” DeGracie-Bailey said. “If you can do everything you can on the field and when you come off you feel proud in what you did and what your teammates did, that’s all you can ask for—no matter what happens in the game. Obviously, we want to win. But our approach is just to hopefully walk away thinking there’s nothing else we could have done.”

RELATED: Wildcats can’t complete Washington sweep, fall to Huskies 2-1

Arizona, currently on the outside looking in at a potential NCAA Tournament appearance, hopes that leave-it-all-on-the-field approach leads to an unlikely victory in front of the home crowd.

“[We] look forward to it because we know we’re the underdogs,” said Arizona goalkeeper Lainey Burdett. “And so, [we’re] up for the fight and it brings out [our] competitive juices for sure.”

Kickoff at Mulcahy Stadium is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.


You can follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter.


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