When Oregon soccer returned from spring break, the team’s eyes focused on one date: May 19.
The Ducks will face the Mexico Under-20 Women’s National Team on Saturday at 4 p.m. in a spring friendly as Mexico prepares for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in France this August.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our players,” Oregon head coach Kat Mertz said. “Priority number one is to make sure both teams walk away healthy, and two, it’s just a great experience for our players. Every time you play an international match it’s unbelievable.”
It’s common for international teams like Mexico, which comes to the United States to play against universities during the offseason to tune up ahead of summer and fall tournaments. Oregon assistant head coach Manny Martins, who is a coach with the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team, reached out to Mexico to get this fixture on the Ducks’ spring schedule.
Playing against international teams is a unique opportunity for universities — the last time the Ducks played a national team in Eugene was in 2003 when the Ghana senior team played Oregon in front of more than 1,200 fans. Even with the little international experience as a team, Mexico is a familiar side for some of Oregon’s international players.
“They’re disciplined, they play beautiful soccer and I think it’s going to really challenge us,” Canadian U-20 player and Oregon center back Hannah Taylor said. “They’re looking for that one error, so just being aware and having each other’s backs is going to be a big one.”
Taylor is quite familiar with this Mexico team, having played against them in January’s CONCACAF Cup that determined the region’s representatives in this summer’s World Cup. Taylor was injured in the semifinal against Mexico after a head collision late in the game.
This collision forced Taylor out the game with a head injury. Canada trails Mexico 1-0 with 15 minutes to play. pic.twitter.com/pnR0J5iRvQ
— Shawn Medow (@ShawnMedow) January 27, 2018
Canada lost the game and Mexico went on to beat the U.S. in the final 4-2 on penalties. Canada was upset in in the third place game by Haiti and missed out on the World Cup.
While Canada won’t be at the World Cup, the U.S. qualified with its appearance in the final. So, Martins will travel with the U.S. team to France for the World Cup, but Oregon midfielder Chardonnay Curran is still waiting to book her ticket.
“It’s kind of stressful,” Curran said. “Always leaving and coming back is hard to get back into the momentum with this team, so that’s kind of just up in the air right now.”
Curran has been called up at multiple youth national team levels, including the U-20s this year, with Martins by her side as the team traveled to France for a pair of friendlies.
Oregon has more international experience from forward Marissa Everett, who has played with the U.S. at various levels, and Halla Hinriksdottir, who has played for the Iceland youth national team.
The game on Saturday, though, will be much different to what is seen on a regular basis at Papé Field. Much of Mexico’s roster has played together throughout different international cycles at varying levels.
“I’m sure there will be moments in the game where we’ll have to deal with breakdowns or make certain adjustments because of the overall lack of experience of being at the international level,” Martins said. “But it will definitely be helpful that we have players that have that experience in multiple lines.”
It’s the perfect game to send Oregon into the summer before the Ducks return in the fall for the regular season and a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s history.
“As long as we continue to do what we do now or do better, I think we’re going to be in a really good spot in the fall,” Curran said.
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow