Curran Brings Pro Mentality To Ducks
Earlier this year, Oregon soccer midfielder Chardonnay Curran faced one of the toughest decisions of her life. The Hawaii native had the option of playing professionally – a lifelong dream – or returning to Eugene for the chance to execute unfinished business.
The decision of whether or not to come back for a fifth year weighed on classmates Mia Palmer, Eden Hardy and True Dydasco as well. But with pro teams calling, the decision was a particularly weighty one for Curran.
"I don't think I've ever stressed out about anything in my entire 22 years of life," she said. "But that one month where I had to decide, it was so crucial. And I feel like everything just hit me at once. Mentally, emotionally, I don't think I've ever been hit like that."
Oregon head coach Graeme Abel and his staff made it clear they were going to do everything possible to support Curran no matter what she decided. Dydasco, a fellow Hawaiian, tried not to hold her best friend back, either.
"I always knew she wanted to go pro," Dydasco said. "But it was hard for me because like, I wanted her to stay with us. Obviously I was like, 'Oh, no, you're so ready to go, like, go do your thing.' I wanted her to make the decision for herself.
"But yeah, I'm so happy she stayed. Because we definitely need her."
On Friday, Curran and her fellow fifth-year "super seniors" will lead the Ducks into a nonconference showdown with former two-time national champion Portland ( 7p.m., Papé Field). Two days later, she'll suit up in her 81st match for the green and yellow, at Portland State on Sunday, breaking a long-time school record currently held by five former Oregon players.
"It's an honor to wear the jersey," Curran said. "I don't really have any words because of how far we've come as a program and how far I've come as an individual through this program."
"She doesn't get tired"
Now in her fifth season of eligibility with the Ducks – a gift granted by the NCAA in light of the COVID-19 pandemic – Curran is known for her toughness and relentless drive.
"She doesn't stop moving. She doesn't get tired," Dydasco said.
Curran's play at Oregon has caught the interest of several professional soccer clubs in the National Women's Soccer League and overseas. Abel thinks she's added value to herself based upon her versatility. But it's her physical capacity and athleticism that will set her apart at the professional level.
"With the pro game, you've only got three subs to make," Abel said. "It's not like the collegiate game where you can make rotating subs constantly. So having that physical capacity is huge. And Char does it really well."
Last season, when starting center-back Hannah Taylor suffered an injury 20 minutes into the first game of the spring, Curran seamlessly joined the back line. While she prefers playing an attacking role in center midfield, Curran anchored the defense for most of the season, displaying a level of soccer IQ and versatility Dydasco said is required in the Hawaiian soccer community.
"You would have to play against the same people at least once a weekend," Dydasco said. "Our coaches were just like 'go play this, go play that.' You never have one set position."
Curran's ability to cover distances throughout the soccer field, control the ball, and find the back of the net in big moments have turned her into an elite all-round player for the Ducks. Her quiet, caring leadership and tenacity to rise up in the face of personal challenges will also not soon be forgotten.
In 2018, as a sophomore, Curran scored a late game-winner at Portland to break a 16-game losing streak to the Pilots. Prior to the game, Curran could have been found laying at the center of the field, looking up at the sky, seeking strength following the passing of her grandmother.
She had a weird feeling that day, she recalls, but didn't think she'd be scoring goals. Then, when she saw the ball get to teammate Brianne Parsons on a counter attack, it was as if she could see 6 seconds ahead of everyone else: she knew the ball was going in before it even got to her foot.
"It was very emotional. I really could not stop crying," Curran remembered of that day. "I think that game itself was kind of just like, these are the moments I live for. It was definitely a tough moment, but it definitely taught me things and I could just feel it. Every time we go there, everyone's like, your angel is on the field over there."
Abel also characterized Curran as "a sponge" who doesn't back down from blunt communication – a mentality he thinks will serve her well.
"The best pros I've got to work with are ones that, you know, I always use the phrase 'a bullet between the eye' – that's how they want it," Abel said. "She's no exception to that. As long as she stays with that mentality where she wants information to be direct and then is able to apply the solution, her IQ will keep climbing."
"My purpose is to make a statement for everyone in Hawaii"
Curran has dreamed of playing professional soccer since she was a child, idolizing players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Carli Lloyd and Lindsay Horan – a player Abel likens Curran to, in terms of her drive and conditioning. During school, she'd finish her homework during class so she'd have free time to watch them play.
When the U.S. Women's National Team won the World Cup in 2015, Curran watched every game and knew it's what she wanted to be a part of. She also knew getting there meant leaving Hawaii.
"I realized that maybe like, my purpose is to use myself and share my story with everyone back at home and make a statement for everyone in Hawaii," she said.
By her own admission, Curran is intensely focused. Fortunately for the Ducks, she had her sights set on coming to Oregon from a young age. Curran had multiple other schools interested in signing her, but she didn't talk to anyone else during the recruiting process.
"Since seventh grade, I knew I wanted to come here," Curran reflected.
Curran and her future UO teammate Dydasco grew up playing against each other every weekend in the Honolulu area. Curran's shyness and non-stop engine is all Dydasco can remember from their first meeting.
"She was all over the field and like, never really stopped running," Dydasco said.
Looking for more exposure than the Aloha State could bring her, Curran drew inspiration from watching football star and fellow Hawaii native Marcus Mariota shine with the Ducks.
"Just seeing Marcus Mariota play, how the fan base was here, and how he was able to change the program here during his years – I knew that we had never made it to the tournament here, so I was like, okay, that's something I want to be a part of," Curran said. "I don't want to go to a school that's already done everything. I want to be a part of a program that has never made it before and try to do something about it."
By the time Curran got to Eugene for her recruiting trip, it was a done deal: "Scholarships didn't really play a role. Once I got here, I was like, yes, I'm coming here no matter what happens."
"We all want to end on a bang"
She describes her journey at Oregon as "bumpy", but when Abel came on board after the 2019 season, everything changed. In the 2020 season – played in the spring of 2021 due to the pandemic – the Ducks had their first winning season since 2006, and it lit a spark in Curran.
"We had some really good moments from our spring season," Abel recalled. "And I think Char started to see the value of maybe sticking around and continuing to take advantage of all the resources that we have here to prep herself (for the pro level)."
After the Ducks drew with Stanford – a perennial soccer powerhouse – on the road, Abel could tell Curran was having second thoughts about leaving.
"After the Stanford game, I said, 'Hey, you know, getting some decent results here in your last year is a pretty cool way to end it.'" Abel said. "She kind of looked at me and smiled and I actually said to one of my assistants, 'I think Char may come back here.'"
While she leaned on her parents, sisters and friends for support, Curran ultimately asked for guidance from above. Eventually, sitting alone in a jacuzzi one night on an offseason vacation, she knew she couldn't let the decision keep weighing on her.
"I was like, okay, something's telling me to stay," she said. "So, I just listened to it."
This season, the soccer staff have given Curran extra assignments like taking note of how her favorite players move on the field, how they are off of it, and listening to their podcasts to understand how they take care of their bodies. They've encouraged her to master the basics, make sure every pass is a good pass.
"I need to treat myself and walk around like I'm a pro," Curran said. "Graeme always talks about games within the game. So like, nutrition-wise, am I recovering good? Am I sleeping well? The little things. And that's kind of what I've been trying to focus on lately."
Next year, as far as professional soccer destinations go, Curran has always had her sights set on Europe, particularly in Spain, Italy and Germany. Abel thinks going overseas is the best move for her.
"I think she'll learn a lot by going to Europe, and I think, by going abroad, you grow up as well as a person, and that cannot be recreated," he said.
There's also a domestic league with several teams inquiring, and Curran is not ruling anything out. On the NWSL side, she mentioned her two favorite teams were the Orlando Pride and the Portland Thorns. She admires the Pride's presence and personality on and off the field, while Portland is the professional home of former Ducks teammate Marissa Everett, the great Horan herself, and the all-time leading goal scorer in international soccer, Christine Sinclair.
Of course, at this stage, Curran is "down to play anywhere." And her pro aspirations are spreading to several of her teammates. It's a testament to the growth of women's professional soccer and the rise of the Oregon program over the past few years that all four "super senior" Ducks now want to play professionally.
That desire to reach the next level shows up in how they handle themselves.
"What I can tell you is this – when you take over a program, you typically want to move the senior class on as quick as you can. But if I had the opportunity to recruit them, and the opportunity to get four more years from them, I absolutely would," Abel said of Oregon's fifth-year players.
Before the contract negotiations and everything else that comes alongside being a professional soccer player, Curran, Dydasco, Hardy, and Palmer just want to finish what they started: taking the Ducks to their first-ever Women's College Cup tournament. Oregon is undefeated through six matches to start the 2021 campaign, and it feels as though something special is brewing at Pape Field.
"Our class had a really big part in growing this soccer program here at Oregon," Curran said. "We all want to end on a bang."