ASU soccer season preview: Sun Devils seek consistency

Freshman defender Madison Stark dribbles the ball upfield in a game against NAU on Aug. 15 in West campus. (Photo by Emily Johnson)

Freshman defender Madison Stark dribbles the ball upfield in a game against NAU on Aug. 15 in West campus. (Photo by Emily Johnson)

A rush of young talent gave ASU soccer fans optimism this upcoming season, even after a disappointing 2013 campaign. Veteran head coach Kevin Boyd has his work cut out for him as he tries to mold an inexperienced team into a contender.

“I want to see what we look like defensively — our organization, what kind of pressure we are getting on the ball, what we look like as a whole,” Boyd said. “Are the young players playing up to their capabilities? Are some of the veterans who can impact the game doing that?”

ASU (9-8-2, 4-5-2 Pac-12) finished in sixth place last season in the Pac-12 and missed out on an NCAA tournament berth after qualifying in 2012.

Over the summer, three returning players were invited to their respective national team camps. Juniors McKenzie Berryhill, defender, and Cali Farquharson, forward, both worked out with the U.S. under–23 national team, as well as redshirt sophomore midfielder Lucy Lara, who trained with the Mexican women’s national team.

Boyd said he was grateful his players had the opportunity to develop and mature in the offseason, while Berryhill was excited about returning to play with ASU’s experienced midfielders.

“Our possessions are high in intensity, and I think that enables me to get involved in the attack, (mostly) on set pieces,” Berryhill said. “I think we’ll do really well in the middle this year with this group, and we’ll see where it takes us.”

ASU lost two key forwards to graduation in the spring in Holland Crook (assist leader), and the team’s second leading scorer Devin Marshall. Even so, Farquharson is more than capable of leading the offense — of her 10 goals scored last season, four were game-winners.

Boyd will look to take advantage of the energy and enthusiasm of the nine incoming freshmen signed in the offseason.

“I think we have a good group in terms of their focus and what they want to become,” Boyd said. “It is a building process, because we have so many young players.”

Leading the youth movement is 5-foot-1 freshman midfielder Aly Moon, who has quickly gained the respect of her elder peers.

“(Moon) is small. She uses her body; she gets in there really well,” Berryhill said. “She’s aggressive and always there on the ball, creating space.”

ASU will play defending national champion UCLA at home on Sept. 26, with a chance to avenge a 3-0 loss last season in Westwood, California. ASU also hosts rival UA after dropping its 2013 regular season finale to the Wildcats 2-0.

If the Sun Devils want to avoid missing consecutive postseasons, they should aspire to be more consistent on the road. ASU struggled in that area in 2013, finishing 3-5 overall away from home.

The Sun Devils went into their conference road trip with a 6–3 record, and showed flashes of brilliance in a 1-0 victory over No. 2 Stanford, but later fell to UCLA in what proved to be a turning point in their season, as ASU ended the year with just a single win — 2-1 in double overtime against Utah — in its final seven games.

ASU begins the season on the road in Hawaii against Texas on Friday, Aug. 22, at 10 p.m. Arizona time.

Reach the reporter at mtsteine@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @MarcTSteiner