EUGENE, Ore. -- University of Oregon women’s soccer head coach Kat Mertz thought her team took a step forward in Sunday’s hard-fought battle against Colorado and continued to improve in a pair of training sessions focused on offense this week. Now, the Ducks will look to turn that momentum into a pair of results this weekend at Papè Field.
The Ducks were turned down 1-0 by the Buffaloes in Boulder, Colo., Sunday. Mertz took more than a few positives from the match, however. The Oregon offense created scoring looks in both halves and threatened often to pull even. The only thing missing from the match was a finished chance, a goal.
Mertz and the Ducks countered by working heavily the past two days in turning midfield possession into scoring chances and alas, putting the ball in the back of the net. Oregon will be trying to do exactly that this weekend, hosting Arizona State (7-4-0, 2-1-0) Friday at 7 p.m. and Arizona (5-4-3, 0-3-0) Sunday at noon.
“Yesterday and today, we focused on finishing, creating opportunities and taking chances in front of the goal,” said Mertz. “We worked on our midfield play, moving the ball from the midfield to the attacking third. We had a few girls put some away in practice today. Now, it’s just a matter of doing it in a game.”
While the Ducks have been in pursuit of an improved offense, their stout defense has been up to each challenge and has kept the team in every match. The Ducks have three shutouts this season, a goals against average of below 1.00 and are yet to lose by more than a single goal.
Oregon has the Pac-12’s leading goalkeeper and a tremendous back line to thank for the defensive laurels this season. Junior goalkeeper Abby Steele leads the Pac-12 in saves and saves per game, making 56 stops on the season. Meanwhile, the back line of Achijah Berry, Reilley Moore, Gabbie Lindeman and Riley Smith have started the past eight matches together and have performed exceptionally.
“The defense is stingy, and we know that, so we have the confidence to take risks and get forward,” said Mertz. “We have a great goalkeeper and a pair of center backs that do a great job for us.”
The competition won’t get any easier, however, with Arizona State and Arizona coming to Papè Field with impressive credentials. The Sun Devils are coming off one up the top upsets of the season, snapping No. 2 Stanford’s 73-match unbeaten streak with a 1-0 victory. Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ 0-3-0 mark in conference play isn’t something to scoff at; they’ve opened Pac-12 play with three ranked opponents.
“Every weekend and every game in the Pac-12 is a challenge,” said Mertz. “Every team presents a different problem and creates different scenarios for us to solve. We’re still focused on us and how we can improve and get better. Our girls are hungry for a win and are hungry to prove to people that we can do this.”
First touch against Arizona State is set for 7 p.m. The game will be a yellow-out at Papè Field as fans wearing yellow will receive $3 admission. The Arizona match will be a ‘Pink Game’ as fans wearing pink receive $2 admission.