It’s a non-conference game for the University of Oregon women’s soccer team (4-3-4), but that doesn’t matter for the fans. The first home game of the season against Portland State brings out nearly 500 spectators.
Weeks later, fans still show up in strong numbers when Oregon closes its non-conference series against Buffalo.
Although Papé Field’s attendance numbers pale in comparison to games held at the neighboring stadium in the sports complex — Autzen Stadium — the stands are filled with energetic fans, cheering for the Ducks or shouting at the referee for ignoring what they think are obvious fouls.
The strong attendance numbers might have something to do with the recent successful run of the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2019 World Cup earlier this year.
“Every year after the World Cup there’s always more interest about soccer,” says Oregon soccer forward and North Eugene High School alumna Jordan Wormdahl. “We can thank the women’s national team for that, too. They’ve been very vocal in the fact that we need to support our women’s athletes more.”
Two of Oregon’s players, Emma Eddy and Wormdahl, grew up in Eugene and remember the impact the soccer program had on them. Today, they want to inspire the next generation of women athletes.
Eddy, a Sheldon High School graduate, attended Ducks games with her club team. She remembers one of the chants she and her teammates came up with as 8-year-olds, “Lucky ducky, Oregon duckies,” which still makes her laugh.
Now a senior, Eddy transferred to the UO from the University of Idaho her sophomore year. This season she’s becoming a playmaker, with an overtime game-winning goal against Buffalo and a game-tying goal against then-17th-ranked Colorado.
Wormdahl, a sophomore, is currently the team’s top scorer with six goals this season. Growing up in Eugene, she participated in Oregon soccer training youth camps, where she first got hooked on the game.
“It was really cool to have those female role models growing up because that’s not prevalent in the athletic community,” she says. “The team was always connected with the community, so you were always a part of the program even as a 10-year-old kid.”
Wormdahl continues to take part in the training camps as a counselor and helping out. Working in the training camps has given her that full-circle moment, but she adds that she won’t fully understand the turn of events until she graduates from the UO.
She says the impact of the training camp hit her earlier this season. When Oregon played Fresno State in August, a girl who attended this year’s training camp showed up at the game to support the Ducks.
“It’s cool how far our reach goes,” she says.
After each Oregon home game, families line up at two tables set up on the soccer field. This isn’t the sort of engagement that happens at other sports games.
Sure, fans line up outside of Autzen Stadium after football games hoping to get a nod or a fist bump, but football players aren’t meeting fans on the 50-yard line for autographs.
Eddy says it’s a fun interaction since the younger Ducks fans get excited to meet the athletes and have the roster sign Oregon soccer posters.
“There’s two who come from three hours away and come to every single game,” Eddy says. “It’s cool that we’re that much of a role model that their dad brings them every single time.”
Wormdahl says her favorite fans are the 8-year-old girls who come to games and wait in line for autographs. She says she especially tries to reach out to them because seeing a Eugene native on the field can offer hope that they, too, can make it.
“I try my best to reach out to them,” she says. “And let them know, ‘Yeah you’re really important, you have so much potential in you and you can do anything you set your mind to.’”
Oregon soccer plays California 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 10, Stanford noon Sunday, Oct. 13, and Washington State 7 pm Saturday, Oct. 19.