EUGENE, Ore. -- When head coach Kat Mertz took over the UO women’s soccer program, a main point of contention was Oregon’s 2012 record in away Pac-12 games. The Ducks were 0-5-0 on the road in conference last season, and as they gear up for the first road game of the 2013 campaign, Mertz looks to change Oregon’s fortune.
Although the Ducks are already midway through the season, they’ll play their first road match this Friday against Utah (4-1-5) in Salt Lake City. Next, the Ducks will head east to Boulder, meeting Colorado (8-2-0) on Sunday.
Facing two strong Pac-12 opponents, coupled with playing their first road games of the season in altitude, the Ducks have two formidable hurdles to overcome following the first week of classes. For Mertz, it’s vital for the team to pass those road tests.
“We have to find a way to win on the road,” said Mertz. “I think we have to take a more serious, business-like approach to road matches. Yes, it’s fun to get out and travel, but at the end of the day you’re there for business – to do a job.”
The Ducks head into the weekend with a 2-4-3 record following a nine-game home stand. Against quality competition, Mertz’s squad has battled to three straight double-overtime draws - the first time that’s happened in program history.
Oregon is fit and battle-tested by one of the nation’s toughest schedules, and now looks for positive results away from Papé Field. The Ducks’ last road trip came in an exhibition on Aug. 17 at UC Davis.
“There’s not much you can do to prepare the team for road,” said Mertz. “We scheduled a road exhibition the week before our season-opener, and had a good trip. This will be different because we won’t train all the way through it, and we will have to be professional in our approach.”
The Ducks have reason for optimism thanks to a staunch defense that has conceded just two goals in the past four fixtures. Only two Pac-12 teams have allowed fewer goals in that stretch. Oregon has the Pac-12’s leading goalkeeper in saves with Abby Steele, and a backline that have started together in the past six matches.
Behind quality defensive performances, Oregon forced then sixth-ranked BYU, San Francisco and an almost-ranked Washington State team to double-overtime draws. While the defense was admirable in each result, the offense is looking to put the ball in the back of the net on scoring opportunities.
Oregon averages 13.8 shots and 6.4 corners a match – a healthy number of chances. A top priority for Mertz’s side will be to start capitalizing on those scoring opportunities.
The Ducks first chance to do so will come at the Ute Soccer Field on Friday. Start time is set for 6 p.m. (PT). Utah has been defeated just once this season, and has outscored its opponents 18-6.
Oregon faces an equally tough opponent Sunday at Prentup Field against Colorado, an upstart team in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes lead the conference in shots (201) and rank fifth in goals (20). First touch between Oregon and Colorado is set for 1 p.m. (PT). The game will be televised live by the Pac-12 Networks.
“We’re going to see two really good sides this weekend,” said Mertz. “Utah is playing great, and they possess the ball very well. We have our focus set on Utah, then we’ll go on to Colorado Sunday night. We’re looking forward to both of these matches.”