The Oregon Ducks (2-2-4) (W-L-T) and Portland Pilots (5-0-4) took turns switching up their tactics in Friday evening’s soccer match on the Bluff, and after an early Tiffany Morales goal Oregon had the upper hand. But homestanding UP scored in the 60th minute, and neither team could find the game-winner late as Oregon and Portland finished with a 1 - 1 draw.
The Ducks had some good news before the game. Bel Rolley, who was injured against Gonzaga late last month, returned to start tonight’s match in the defense. Oregon has suffered an unusual number of injuries and is still awaiting the return of three players who started in the 2021 season. Portland also faced its share of problems: usual starting goalkeeper Bre Norris received a “straight Red Card” (immediate disqualification) in the Pilots match against Washington last Sunday and was forced to also sit out the Oregon match. In addition, backup goalkeeper Jenny Wahlen broke her wrist in practice this week. This put Freshman Cadence Rutledge into the nets against the Ducks, her first college action.
The good news for Oregon continued early with Morales’s goal. Oregon came into match playing a style not seen much this season. Oregon was putting early long balls into the Portland defense, trying to then run onto the ball in behind the Pilots. Given the ability of Oregon freshman forward Ajanae Respass to receive or run on to passes deep in the defense, the early tactics were sound and in fact led to Oregon’s goal. In just the 6th minute of action, a deep pass down the right side was crossed into the penalty area and the resulting shot from close in was saved by Rutledge but the ball bounced straight up the field to a charging Morales, who blasted a 25-yard shot into the upper right part of the goal. This is the first time this season the Pilots have trailed.
Ahead 1 - 0, Oregon shifted tactics. The Ducks focused more on defense, putting little pressure on Portland in their defensive end and frequently bringing all eleven Oregon players into the Ducks defensive end. This made it very difficult for the Pilots to advance the ball as an Oregon player was never far from disrupting a pass or pressuring a Portland player with the ball. Portland reacted by taking shots from distance whenever possible. Only a handful of these shots really challenged Oregon goalkeeper Leah Freeman or the Ducks defenders as most either missed the goal entirely or were easily saved by Freeman. Freeman did have to make a diving save to her left in the 18th minute and tipped a shot over the bar in the 35th. The Pilots spent most of the rest of the half probing Oregon’s defense and being turned back by good individual defensive efforts or Freeman. Oregon was unable to generate much offense after the Morales goal, although midfielder Zoe Hasenauer had a dangerous cross that was a bit off target for Respass, and then had a 44th minute breakaway shot that went directly to Rutledge from close in.
The half ended with the Ducks leading in precious few statistics, but ahead on the only one that counts - the scoreboard. Portland outshot Oregon 7 - 3 and generated 3 corner kicks to Oregon’s zero in the half.
Oregon changed tactics again to start the second half attempting to string together passes to advance toward goal, as they have done in previous games this season. This led to more offensive chances by Oregon which they were unable to convert. Hasenauer continued to put the ball in dangerous areas, and a Repass drive toward goal was turned aside by the Portland defense. Oregon had the best of the action right up until Portland scored the tying goal in the 60th minute. A UP cross got past two Oregon defenders in the air and was accidentally headed backwards by a UP player to Beaverton’s Mountainside High School product Nedya Sawan on the left side of the 18-yard box. She calmly knocked a right-footed shot to Freeman’s left and into the right side of the Oregon goal, tying the game at 1 - 1.
The final 30 minutes featured both teams trying to find a game-winner without giving the other team an opening. Freeman was very solid during this period punching out a Portland cross in the 72nd minute and tipping a chipped shot over the bar in the 82nd minute. Oregon also had its chances as Hasenauer hit a hard low shot to Rutledge in the 85th minute and another Respass drive was knocked out for an Oregon corner which the Ducks couldn’t do anything with in the 87th minute. Unfortunate for Oregon but certainly consistent with this season’s theme, forward Kaitlyn Paculba limped off in the 79th minute with an apparent knee or ankle injury.
Despite not scoring, Oregon generated more offensive pressure in the second half. Respass was consistently double- or triple-teamed when a ball would come into her in the Portland half. After scoring 3 times in the early part of Oregon’s season, she has become a “must stop” for opposing defenses. The Ducks continue to find their way after all the injuries and the team seems more comfortable with each game.
The Ducks have now completed the non-Conference portion of their 2022 schedule and open up Pac-12 action with three straight home games. The first is against Washington in Eugene next Friday at 7:00 pm.