The struggle continued on the soccer pitch for Oregon tonight, as the #7 Stanford Cardinal made a 6th-minute goal stand up for the remaining 84 minutes to beat the Ducks 1 - 0. The story of the game was very similar to many of Oregon’s outings this Fall. Duck Head Coach Graeme Abel noted two important factors before the game that explains Oregon’s strategy this season. First, he noted that Oregon is sitting back in defense and absorbing pressure from opponents because the Coach trusts the defense and particularly Goalkeeper Leah Freeman to prevent goals. Secondly, he said that Oregon is not pressing upfield - when the opposing team has the ball in its defensive end - due to the team’s lack of depth brought on by an avalanche of injuries. Pressing upfield in this way requires a tremendous outpouring of energy as the forwards and some midfielders chase the ball in hopes of making a steal or forcing a bad pass. Were Oregon completely healthy, it seems clear, this is a style Coach Abel would like to employ. As it is, Oregon doesn’t have enough players to play this style and keep players fresh enough to take advantage throughout the game.
Instead, Oregon is sitting back - tonight the Ducks started the game in a defensive formation, playing 5 defenders, 3 midfielders and 2 forwards. The forwards frequently retreated back into Oregon’s defensive half as Stanford moved the ball forward. As has often happened this season, the Ducks strategy is to absorb the opponent’s pressure and to look for opportunities to counter-attack on an opponent that might have pushed too many players forward, seeking to score. This strategy can work - and in fact has worked for Oregon in what have generally been low-scoring games decided by a single goal - but tonight the Ducks gave up the early goal to add to their burdens.
Playing this style typically leads to crazy statistics that run against the Ducks. For example, Stanford had almost 70 percent of the possession of the ball in the first half. For the game, the Cardinal outshot Oregon 32 - 3. However, only 8 of those Stanford shots were on goal, and Freeman saved 7 of them. Oregon frequently allowed long distance shots that had little chance of going in and Stanford was inaccurate both from distance and a few times from close in due to some great, harassing defense by Oregon’s back line and some good positioning by Freeman that caused Cardinal players to second-guess their shot selection as their leg was swinging forward.
Oregon had leading scorer forward Ajanae Respass back tonight. This was also just the 4th game back for defender Croix Soto and the Senior is starting to round into form after her long absence, challenging plenty of Stanford drives toward goal and heading crossing balls away.
In the second half, Oregon began to press Stanford a bit in the Cardinal’s defensive end, and the Ducks managed to force errors that led to a couple of promising shots, but most of Oregon’s offensive pushes forward were short-circuited by good Stanford defense, or errant Oregon passing.
Despite the injuries, tonight’s outcome and the domination of possession by Stanford, it’s not hard to see the quality of this Oregon team. The Ducks have played one Pac-12 game in which they didn’t seem competitive, a 4-0 loss to USC. Even against then-#1 UCLA, Oregon was tied with the Bruins late into the game before succumbing. If the Ducks can figure out how to generate some offense - even if it’s on the counterattack as opposed to from a passing build-up - they can post a strong finish in their last four Pac-12 Conference games.
With the loss, Oregon falls to 4-6-5 (W-L-T) and 2-5-1 in the Conference. Stanford improved to 13-2-1 and 6-1 in Conference.
Oregon next faces #25 Cal in Eugene on Sunday, October 23 at Noon.