The Oregon soccer team opened Pac-12 Conference play with a strong 2 - 0 home victory over the Washington Huskies on Friday night. Ajanae Respass scored early and Kess Elmore scored late for the homestanding Ducks, while goalkeeper Leah Freeman recorded her 17th career shutout for Oregon, tying the school record.
In some ways, Washington’s tactics in the game were similar to those employed by the University of Portland against the Ducks last week. The Pilots had repeatedly sent deep, searching balls in and around the Oregon penalty area, trying to free a player behind the Duck defense. The Huskies repeatedly worked the ball into Oregon territory but instead of trying to find empty space inside 35 yards, Washington instead took very long shots at goal. It’s not clear what the Huskies were trying to accomplish because Freeman had no trouble with any of these attempts. Perhaps Washington was hoping for a deflection off the Oregon defense or a bobble by Freeman. But most were floated directly to her, were corralled with little effort or sailed harmlessly over the bar or wide. For the game, Washington outshot Oregon 28 - 8, but only half of the Huskies shots were on target.
Early in the game, the teams basically traded possessions between the 35-yard lines, probing to see what might lead to a breakthrough on the scoreboard. Perhaps Washington’s best scoring chance of the game came in just the 10th minute, when a UO giveaway in its area led to an open look by a Huskie forward that was closed down by Defender Anna Phillips at the last moment. Phillips also managed to deflect the ball off the Huskie forward for an Oregon goal kick, ending the threat.
In just the next minute, Ajanae Respass - Oregon’s leading scorer on the year and the recipient of a lot of unhelpful defensive pressure over the last several games - gave the Ducks a lead they would never relinquish. Forward Kaitlyn Paculba ran onto a pass down the right side and crossed to Respass stationed at the near post. Respass immediately shot the ball across the face of the goal, taking the Washington goalkeeper out of the play, and putting the ball into the lower left side of the goal. Although Washington had the best of the possession, and more shots, Oregon led 1 - 0.
The Ducks get behind the defense on a long kick from Leah Freeman that leads to a little give-and-go between Kaitlyn Paculba and Ajanae Respass, who scores her 4th of the season.#GoDucks pic.twitter.com/BZTtVnSdvR— Oregon Ducks Soccer (@OregonSoccer) September 24, 2022
The remainder of the first half had similar back-and-forth action and Washington did a good of pressuring Oregon whenever they had the ball. This disrupted Oregon’s ability to build up attacks. Nevertheless, the Ducks created a few more opportunities before the halftime whistle, including a 30th minute cross that was just a bit too high for 2 Oregon forwards and an entry pass to Respass that was just a bit too far and taken off her feet by Washington’s goalkeeper. Most of Washington’s chances were from too far away, or high or wide, or were saved by Freeman.
There was little change in either team’s strategy as the second half opened, and the early results were just the same. Washington continued to launch long-distance shots and crosses to little effect, and the Ducks continued to try and overcome Huskie pressure to work the ball down the field and into scoring position. Most of the game action took place between the two 18-yard boxes but as the half wore on, Oregon began finding the range. In the 55th minute Lexi Romero just missed to the left of the goal after a long pass from Respass freed her. Romero also had a shot from close range go over the bar in the 58th minute. Finally, in the 70th minute Kess Elmore, in her first action back from injury, scored an opportunistic goal from about 16 yards after an Oregon corner kick. The corner was sent into the penalty area, and after a scramble rolled out to Elmore who shot the ball and scored when the ball deflected off a Huskie defender into the left side of the goal. Oregon led 2 - 0.
Oregon was now in the enviable position of having to run out 20 minutes of clock for the win. The Ducks weren’t satisfied to just sit back, play defense and waste time, however. In the 71st minute, a cross from Romero just missed Croix Soto’s head and in the 72nd minute Oregon had a free kick just outside the Huskie 18-yard box that generated a header and a subsequent corner kick. Washington continued to try shots and crosses from 35 - 50 yards, but Oregon’s defense and Freeman were always equal to the task. Freeman made a terrific save on a UW breakaway in the 86th minute and Oregon was able to run out the clock to secure the victory. Freeman finished with 14 saves, one off the school record.
.@LeahFreeman01— Oregon Ducks Soccer (@OregonSoccer) September 24, 2022
made 14 saves - one off the school record - as the Ducks snapped a six-game losing streak to Washington tonight. While many were garden variety stops, there were a handful that required maximum effort #GoDucks pic.twitter.com/w9w1RNJIRC
Oregon has begun to get its injured players back in the lineup. Oregon Coach Graeme Abel noted this week that the recent schedule giving the Ducks ample time for rest and recovery has been really helpful. Players who have been pressed into service they aren’t used to - as starters, perhaps, or playing longer minutes than normal - have had a chance to be fully ready for the next game action.
Oregon’s goal this season, as last, is to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Due in large part to the injuries, Oregon did not have the kind of pre-season success it hoped to have which means the Pac-12 season now takes on added importance if the team is to qualify.
Oregon played a tough pre-season, Washington not so much. The Huskies came into the game undefeated and suffered their first loss of the year. Oregon is now 3-2-4 (W-L-T) and Washington 6-1-2.
In normal sporting matches of any kind, it is generally expected that teams will commit a similar number of fouls or infractions, assuming unusually rough play is not part of their strategy. In tonight’s game, Oregon was whistled for 20 fouls and was issued 3 yellow (caution) cards while Washington had only 13 fouls and no yellow cards. Oregon was repeatedly surprised by some of the fouls called on their players, in particular those where players from each team were trying for a ball and were probably equally at fault for any foul. Most of those 50/50 calls went against Oregon.
The Ducks continue Pac-12 Conference play facing top-ranked UCLA in Eugene this coming Thursday at 7:00 pm.