The Santa Clara Broncos have had an uncharacteristically slow start to the 2022 women’s soccer season. The 2020 National Champions came into their game with Oregon having scored only one goal - a penalty kick - on a 4-game losing streak and sporting just a 1-4-0 (W-L-T) record this Fall. But the Broncos put it all together in a hurry Thursday evening, riding 3 goals and an assist from Freshman forward Farrah Walter to beat the Oregon Ducks 4 - 1.
As against the “other” Broncos from Boise State last Sunday, tonight’s game also got off to a slow start for Oregon. Santa Clara scored in just the 3rd minute to lead 1 - 0. Oregon’s defense broke down on the play as Izzy Aquila turned quickly on her defender and launched a left-footed shot that eluded Oregon goalkeeper Leah Freeman and went in off the left-hand post.
Oregon has had some success overcoming early deficits, including against Texas just a week ago. A one-goal deficit is hardly fatal, and Oregon tried to recover, pushing against the Santa Clara defense and earning a free kick in the 10th minute and having Jordan Snyder - who had scored in two straight games for Oregon - stripped of the ball as she drove on goal in the 14th minute. But the Ducks could not mount enough of a threat, and as they pushed forward looking for an equalizer, Santa Clara took advantage, increasing the pressure on Oregon’s defenders and Freeman. Santa Clara’s excellent passing and overall ball movement led to their second goal in the 16th minute as Walters received a lead pass, split two Oregon defenders and beat Freeman with another shot that was low and left. The Broncos now led 2 - 0.
For the remainder of the first half, the action was back-and-forth as the Ducks tried to score and get back in the game. Oregon moved the ball into Bronco territory but struggled to get off shots against Santa Clara’s defense and aggressive goaltending from Redshirt Junior Marlee Nicolos, who was making her first start this season. An Oregon free kick at 23:33 was just a bit too far for two Oregon players at the six-yard box, and a Lexi Romero break was foiled when Nicolos charged out to take the ball off her feet.
Santa Clara again took advantage of Oregon’s need to press forward, with Walters scoring her second goal in the 35th minute to give the Broncos a 3 - 1 lead. A Broncos cross from the left was headed back across the goal mouth to Walter, whose header was stopped by an Oregon defender, but the ball fell to Walter’s feet where she was able to knock it in.
Despite their large lead, Santa Clara continued to press their case against Freeman and Oregon’s defense. But Freeman was up to the task, shutting down shots from near and far until the halftime whistle sounded.
Santa Clara’s dominance certainly showed up in the first half statistics. The Broncos out-shot Oregon 12 - 1. Six of the Broncos shots were on-goal, while Oregon’s single shot was not.
Down 3 - 0, Oregon had set itself a tall challenge for the second half. But this Oregon team has shown no quit, and the Ducks opened the scoring in the half. A beautiful lead pass in the 51st minute down the right side by Freshman Trinity Morales led to a cross by Kaitlyn Paculba that Senior forward Lexi Romero volleyed past Nicolos to cut the Santa Clara lead to 3 - 1.
The teams continued to play a back-and-forth match and Oregon again had a nice crossing ball come up just short of reaching a chance at a close-in shot. Oregon’s defense was also generally better in this half, with defenders positioning themselves to cut off some of the Broncos passing. But Santa Clara did a good job of stretching Oregon across the field, opening up passing lanes. This strategy paid off again, as Walter scored her third goal of the match, getting free on the left side about 10 yards from goal in the 78th minute. Now facing a 4 - 1 deficit with only 12 minutes to play, the Ducks nevertheless continued to pound away with shots from Paculba and Morales testing Nicolos but missing the mark.
Santa Clara was able to just play keep-away from the Ducks for the last 5 minutes and preserved their 4 - 1 victory.
Oregon has now lost 2 straight by a combined score of 7 - 2. Oregon’s ranks are severely depleted by injury (the Ducks entered the game down 8 players, including three 2022 starters) and those losses show all over the field. Santa Clara showed much better ball skills, including in controlling the ball and in more accurate passing. Oregon Freshman forward Ajanae Respass, who leads Oregon with 3 goals this season, has not scored in recent games and is not receiving the ball in areas where she can be most effective.
Oregon appeared to suffer yet another injury when Jordan Snyder went down in a collision with a Santa Clara player in the 71st minute. She appeared to suffer a potential broken collarbone. Snyder stayed on the sidelines late in the game wearing a sling. Let’s hope the sling was just precautionary.
Oregon (1-2-3) (W-L-T) plays again Sunday in Hempstead, New York against Hofstra. That game is available on FloSports.