Three-Match Homestand Opens Thursday
The calendar has turned to October, and the leaves on the trees around Papé Field have begun to turn from green to yellow, and orange and red.
The arrival of October means the meat of Pac-12 Conference play for the Oregon soccer team. It means playing through whatever conditions Mother Nature throws at the Ducks and their opponents. And this weekend, it could mean playing through some moisture when the UO women host Arizona and ASU.
Bring it on, UO coach Graeme Abel says. The Ducks want playing at Papé Field to be a miserable experience for opponents, mostly due to strong play by Oregon. But if some rain adds to the experience, so be it.
"That's the beauty about being in Oregon, right? You get all four seasons," Abel said. "We love being at home. Great time of year."
The Ducks (6-1-4) will host Arizona to kick off a three-match homestand on Thursday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network). The weekend wraps up when Arizona State visits on Sunday at noon, and the homestand extends to next Thursday against Southern California.
That kind of concentration of competition days, combined with the fact the season has passed the halfway point, means that days without a game are as likely to include mental prep and physical recovery as they are practices. But the Ducks did hold a full practice Tuesday, their first of this season coming off a loss, after Oregon's unbeaten streak to open the season ended Sunday at Stanford.
That match saw the Cardinal fire 29 shots at Oregon's goal, including 20 in the second half. The pressure was relentless, and in a way a sign of respect for the Ducks, who until last season had never recorded a win over Stanford.
"There's a different expectation when teams play Oregon these days," Abel said. "It's not seen as a quote-unquote win on teams' schedules prior; teams know they maybe have to do some things different against us these days. And all credit for that goes to our student-athletes, because they're the ones putting the performances forth."
Oregon's defense held up well enough that only two of those 29 shots by the Cardinal resulted in goals, and only 10 shots were even on goal. Keeper Leah Freeman took over from there, making eight saves to tie her season high.
Freeman currently sits third in the Pac-12 in goals against average at 0.58, and is ninth nationally with six shutouts. Abel said the staff tracks not just the quantity but the quality of her saves, all the way up to those that are "world class."
"She's had to make a couple of them a game," said Abel, who played goalkeeper. "But that's what the job is, at the end of the day. You look at any top team around the world, they've got a goalkeeper that can make saves when they need them to."
The Ducks' upcoming homestand begins Thursday against Arizona, which is off to a 3-7 start – and 0-3 in Pac-12 play – under first-year coach Becca Moros.
While Arizona's style under Moros is "different from the past," Abel said, "They're still athletic, still really organized on the defensive side of the ball. They're going to be difficult to break down, so we've got to make sure we move the ball well and get into the areas we want to."