Illinois soccer set to host Arizona State

By Joey Figueroa

In just the third match of the young 2014 season, Illinois soccer (1-1-0) will host Arizona State (1-0-1) on Friday night. This will be the Illini’s third consecutive nonconference opponent and just their second all-time meeting with the Sun Devils.

After an impressive shutout victory against Louisville last Sunday, defense will continue to be Illinois’ main focus heading into this weekend.

“I think we’ve got to be solid defensively,” head coach Janet Rayfield said. “It’s going be another good attacking team that, like Notre Dame, has some athleticism that’s going to come at you and that’s going to put you under pressure, so we’ve got to try to put pressure on the ball.”

Rayfield still believes the defense is much better than what it was at this point last year and believes it has a lot to do with experience and being more aggressive by defending higher up the field, which has been a major point of emphasis thus far.

“The defense has been amazing and we’re going to keep working on it and get better,” sophomore goalkeeper Michelle Denley said. “We just need to continue to communicate and keep a higher line of confrontation so that we don’t let our attackers drop down on us.”

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    While the defense continues to improve, the Illini offense has seen some new contributions, especially from freshman right-back Abby Elinsky, who already has two goals this year.

    Elinsky has shown her versatility by contributing on both sides of the field, which is what Rayfield expects from the entire team.

    “I think all of our players are versatile enough to be able to play in a role that we need them to and to play on both sides of the ball,” Rayfield said. “We don’t expect any of our players to be one dimensional in that aspect.”

    The Sun Devils have also had strong freshman contributions, as midfielder Aly Moon was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week following her three-goal, one-assist performance in ASU’s 5-2 victory over Hawaii.

    In the first-ever match between the Illini and Sun Devils in 2013, ASU squeaked by with a 4-3 win in dramatic double overtime fashion. To avoid the same fate, Rayfield expects cleaner offensive execution than what she saw last weekend.

    “We’ve got to be good offensively,” Rayfield said. “We gave balls away and gave both Notre Dame and Louisville chances off of our own technical errors with the ball. We’ve got to clean that up if we’re going to continue to be successful against really good teams.”

    This early in the season, the Illini are still brushing off any off-season rust and just want to be better as a team with every match they play.

    “There’s certain things we have to work on, but then also as a team, we’re just competing, doing our best, and really working for each other out there on the field,” sophomore defender Hope D’Addario said. “We know we saw (ASU) last year and it didn’t come with the outcome that we wanted, so we’re ready to take it back this year.”

    Joey can be reached at [email protected] and @joeyfigueroa3.