By Nick Kostenko, Digital Communications Intern
Coming off a difficult assignment - five consecutive road games - to start the 2012 season, the Arizona State women's soccer team makes its home debut this weekend when it hosts the Sun Devil Desert Classic.
The challenge of opening the season on the road proved to be a tough one for a Sun Devil roster that includes 14 new players. After coming away with one victory in those five games, including losses to current No. 13 Missouri and No. 20 San Diego State, the Sun Devils (1-3-1) will look to regroup when they return to Sun Devil Soccer Stadium.
"Such a young squad's having a hard time playing on the road so much," ASU head coach Kevin Boyd said. "It'd be better if we were at home. We're dealing with the challenges of playing with so many first-year players, especially all grouped together on the back line. The game's just faster than they're ready to think and we're trying to speed them up."
A major problem area for the Sun Devils has been early scoring by the opposition. Opponents have gained a quick lead on ASU in four of the five matches this season, including a goal in the fifth minute at Missouri.
"Once [Missouri] was ahead of us, it was hard to try and crawl our way back in," Boyd said. "In fact, the opposite happened in the second half, when they got another early goal on another mistake and that really drove the dagger down deeper."
The back line has had to deal with the largest learning curve, as three of the four starting backs are freshmen. With the back line leading the charge and having to communicate forwards, it has been a challenge to adjust to a young lineup.
"I just keep telling them there's no cavalry coming their way," Boyd said. "We have what we have, and they've got to figure it out. There's a lot of pressure coming their way and they're being asked to solve a variety of problems and do it against veteran players."
Though returning players such as junior forward Devin Marshall are having successful seasons, the Sun Devils have also have had to adjust to the young presence of this year's squad. Seven freshmen (including redshirt freshman goalkeeper Chandler Morris) have already started games for ASU this season, putting pressure on the veterans to step up their game.
"To Devin and [senior] Taylor [McCarter]'s credit, I think they have stepped up," Boyd said. "But I think there's more around them that need to step up and try to add their voice."
Among the freshmen who have enjoyed success is forward Cali Farquharson, who is currently tied with Marshall for the team lead in goals (3).
"[Farquharson] is everything we thought she would be," Boyd said. "She's doing very well, especially when we've got Devin next to her. That's two very dangerous players and as the rest of our players continue to find their game, we'll really have some juice up there."
ASU is eager to prove itself during the Sun Devil Desert Classic, which will also feature Arizona, Houston and No. 10 Pepperdine. The Sun Devils will make their home debut on Friday when they host Houston at 7 p.m. ASU's home opener will be preceded by a match between Arizona and Pepperdine at 4:30 p.m. Then on Sunday, Arizona will take on Houston at 11 a.m. and will be followed by the Sun Devils facing Pepperdine at 1:30 p.m.
Even though it has been a difficult start to the season, the Sun Devils remain optimistic. The team followed up its loss to Missouri by playing to a 2-2 tie against Kansas on Sunday. They have shown improvement from game to game and hope to build on the success of the previous two games.
"I just want us to get better every game and play it simple," Boyd said. "The great thing is we focused on that against Kansas and we played what I thought was our most complete game. I want us to step up better than [we did against] Kansas when we play Friday night. When you have so many young players, that's really what you need them to do."