The Eugene Metro Football Club (EMFC) Azul took on and defeated the Bend Timbers by a score of 4-1 in front of 700 patrons packed in bleachers above the South Eugene High School soccer field. In this season-opening game, fans and head coach Jürgen Ruckaberle got their first peek of Gaia Mastrovincenzo, a touted forward and midfielder from the prestigious Serie A’s Riviera di Romagna in Italy, who stood out in leading her new team to victory.
Bend’s Kristen Parr benefited from an Azul turnover and a vulnerable, spread out defense to score in the 10th minute, a goal Ruckaberle attributes to “a combination of errors.”
Azul didn’t make many errors after that gaffe. Taylor Housley scored on an assist from Taylor Boyer in the 31st minute to notch a 1-1 tie, and following halftime EMFC proved itself defensively with increased intensity, constant control of possession deep in Bend territory and three thumped strikes into the net for the final tally, including Mastrovincenzo’s tie-breaker in the 63rd minute.
The Italian star had a hand in creating other goals, as well, and Ruckaberle was impressed. He says he thinks she has all of the tools, and he was encouraged by her aggressiveness on defense, her crisp, on-target passing and her ability to use both feet. She’s a lefty but scored her goal with her right foot. “It was a beautiful goal,” he says. “She is going to improve through the season. She is not used to the pace of the game because on turf, the game is faster than on grass, but the way I see it over two practices now and one game, she already has a running start. You can play her the ball in any way, and she knows what to do with it.”
Mastrovincenzo isn’t the only one getting acclimated or turning heads. Players coming over from the UO’s women’s soccer team played well with similarly limited practice time, so Ruckaberle was right in describing this game as an “experiment” — an ultimately successful one, at that.
Azul will get a chance to continue to haunt the Timbers, as they travel to Bend for their next game and stay on the road for two games each in Portland and Seattle.
“If we get some results in those games,” Ruckaberle says, “we can really regroup and have four home games at the end. If we do that, we’ll have a chance to go to the next round, which is our goal.”