In its last two matches Arizona United has faced two clubs in Orange County Blues FC and Saint Louis FC that had scored 12 goals combined against their last opponents.
However when they came to the desert, the teams combined for one goal, a fluky tally by Saint Louis that came just prior to the final whistle, erasing what should have been Arizona United’s second straight clean sheet.
“It was a funky goal, kind of a weird one,” Arizona United coach Frank Yallop said of Jordan Roberts’ 92nd minute goal Saturday. “Anytime you can whip out a clean sheet like last weekend it’s good, this one should’ve been a clean sheet, I think. But we were pretty close to it and we won the game so that’s what’s important.
“Defensively we are starting to gel as a team and work hard as a unit and that’s the main thing defensively. That is why you don’t concede goals it’s not just the back four.”
However it is hard to overlook the effort of the back four in the last two matches. Julian Ringhof and Uchenna Uzo are two big reasons why United’s defense has been so impressive the last two matches. Ringhof, at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, and Uzo, at 6-foot, 200 pounds, have been using their size to keep opposing attacks on the outside.
“We know that before these last two games, we were giving up easy goals out of the back. There weren’t a lot but the chances that they had, they finished,” Uzo said. “Between these last few games, with the coaches, we worked on 7v2s, 5v3s. We’ve tried with them [offense] having a man or two up, going 5 attackers vs. 3 defenders. We had to work on stopping higher numbers facing us.
“When it came to the game, it just looked so much easier. We also worked a lot on our fitness. This game it was really, really hot and when teams come here, they’re going to struggle. They were exhausted at halftime and we were just warming up. So, it was good. It was really good.”
And for Uzo, playing beside Ringhof has been a blessing for the first-year pro.
“Julian was tough on me at first as it was my rookie year and he played for the team that won the whole thing last year,” Uzo said. “He is older than me by like five years so he has much more experience than I do. So he was just “joy-sticking” me the whole time. He helped a lot, just having that experience in the back.
“And it took a while for us to get comfortable with each other. But now that we are comfortable with each other, it is so much more easier. We don’t even have to talk to each other. We already know where we are supposed to be. We still have a lot to work on but it’s progress and that’s good.”
And for Uzo, he is getting more confident as a first-year pro playing the central defender role.
“As I said it’s, my teammates, practice, the coaches, everything,” Uzo said. “The coaches talk to me. They call me out, bad game or good game. They tell me this is what I did bad, this is what I did good. If I did do his next game, it means I’ll be better. I listen to them and I bring it to the field.
“Obviously my physicality is a big factor because they tell me if I want, nobody can get past me because of my body and I should just use my body every time I defend. It’s easy and I have more confidence playing that way.”
Midfielder/forward Tyler Blackwood has also been impressed with the recent play of the defenders, which helped spring him for his second goal of the season Saturday.
“Solid, solid. I think it was a heartbreaker just now with the late goal because they deserved the clean sheet,” Blackwood said. “Stayed solid for 92 minutes and to concede a goal it hurts. Even though we won the game, it still hurts cause two nil’s back to back it’s big. But as you can tell by the results, they’ve gotten really solid. They’ve worked very hard. Coach has been working hard on the structure of the back and you can tell it’s paying off.”
It’s a quick turnaround for this club as Saturday’s match began a stretch of three matches in seven days, a crucial time for United and its spot in the Western Conference standings.
“We’ll rest them. Let them rejuvenate and get them so they are comfortable and ready for that game (Wednesday vs Rio Grande),” Yallop said. “It’ll be a tough game traveling anywhere in this league and playing away from home, but it’s a game we are looking forward to now. ”
“The most important thing after that game is to take it easy on our bodies. The most important part is what you do before you play, not actually playing,” Uzo added. “So we have to hydrate because of this heat. We have all lost a lot of fluids. We have to hydrate. We have to ice bath. We have to get ourselves checked up. We just have to recover for the next game. That’s more important. And that is what coach is going to tell us. ‘This game is over. Congrats, we won. Now let’s go on to the next game. We got to start recovering. Start getting ready for it. The next game is on Wednesday so we don’t have much time to recover.’ We have to do what we have to do.”