Can Arkansas Soccer Ever Match Stanford and North Carolina?

Arkansas soccer

In 2019, the Arkansas Razorbacks women’s soccer team enjoyed another successful run to the NCAA Tournament, winning the SEC West Conference in the process. Colby Hale’s side defeated North Texas in the first round of the tournament, only to be eliminated for the second year in a row in the second round, losing 2-1 to NC State.

Arkansas picked the wrong time to put forward one of their worst displays of the campaign. Kia Rankin and Lulu Guttenberger put the Wolfpack ahead, and although Tori Cannata ensured there would be a tense finish, the Razorbacks were unable to find a late equalizer to miss out on the latter stages of the NCAA Tournament.

It probably would not have mattered a great deal anyway as Hale’s team would have had to play the Stanford Cardinals in the quarter-final stage. The Cardinals were a force in the early rounds and eventually won the entire shebang on penalties, defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels. Arkansas’ program doesn’t yet compare to Stanford, which is high caliber enough to constantly supply the United States women’s national team with talent.

Players of the ilk of two-time Hermann Trophy award winner Catarina Macario are the reason why they are always in contention for the crown and why the USMNT are always favorites for the Women’s World Cup every four years. That production line of quality is in stark contrast to the men’s game where the USMNT are backed in the international football betting odds at 100/1 to win the next men’s World Cup. The USWNT do have a deeper pool of talent to tap into compared to their counterparts, with basketball, football, baseball and athletics draining a large portion of the quality away from soccer.

Macario among others has committed their career towards women’s soccer. However, the best players in the States always seem to ply their trade on the west coast rather than in the South. That’s a challenge that Hale faces every year in attempting to take Arkansas to elite levels. Since Hale’s arrival, his team have always managed to punch above their weight, enduring only one poor season in 2015 when the Razorbacks finished with a losing record.

Although the 2019 campaign ended in a disappointing fashion, there were a number of positives to take from the season. Arkansas were SEC West Conference champions for the first time in their history, with an 8-1-1 record in the SEC and a 17-4-2 record overall. Perhaps their greatest accomplishment of the season came in a 2-0 victory over the then No. 1 ranked Tar Heels on home soil. It was the first time Arkansas had beaten the number-one ranked team in the country as strikes from Parker Goins and Anna Podojil secured the triumph. The result proved that despite the differences in overall talent, the Razorbacks are capable of beating the best.

One day, it could result in a deeper surge in the NCAA Tournament to match the Cardinals and the Tar Heels. Podojil was named Freshman of Year for her exploits, and it could be the start of a bright future for her and the surging Razorback soccer program in the coming years.

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