The Blue Devils made an encouraging impression in exhibition play while trying out new lineups.    

Now, they will try to maintain their newfound defensive solidity in games that count.   

Duke will play host to UCF Friday night at 7:30 and Fordham Sunday afternoon at 2:30 in the John Rennie Nike Invitational at Koskinen Stadium this weekend. The annual tournament will also feature Elon matching up against the Blue Devils' two opponents.    

Duke has won the Invitational the past four years and enters the season's opening weekend with a new formation that has helped create more scoring chances and stiffen the defense at the same time. The Blue Devils experimented with a 3-4-3 formation for their preseason matches and only allowed two penalty-kick goals in almost 300 minutes of action.    

“I think that formation caused Indiana a lot of problems,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “It’s tough to deal with because you really stretch out teams, but it means that our passing has to be crisp and it has to be accurate because if there’s a breakdown, you leave yourself open to a counterattack.”   

The all-senior backline of Carter Manley, Kevon Black and Markus Fjortoft held steady against the No. 7 Hoosiers last Saturday and provided a steady foundation for freshman goalie Will Pulisic, who was named the starter by Kerr for the start of the regular season.

The Blue Devils salvaged a 1-1 draw against Indiana with a last-minute penalty-kick by Fjortoft and also exchanged penalty kicks with Xavier in a 110-minute 1-1 draw last Thursday.

“One of the things I liked about our backs against Indiana was the recognition of their pressure,” Kerr said. “Sometimes you just have to clear the ball out or knock it over the top when you’re under severe pressure, and other times, we did great playing out of the back when they had a little bit more time. I liked our ability to make decisions in those areas.”   

Duke, which went 7-8-2 last season and bowed out early in the ACC tournament, will face an early test from the Knights. UCF went 2-0 in exhibition play and will be fired up to start the season under the direction of new head coach Scott Calabrese.   

“UCF is going through a transition. They’ve got a new coach,” Kerr said. “You know that the players want to show their best in their first game, and that’s against us.”   

The tougher matchup may come Sunday against Fordham. The Rams are the reigning Atlantic 10 champions and were picked to finish first in the preseason poll this year. They also boast five returning players who garnered All-Atlantic 10 honors last year and only gave up 0.85 goals per game last season.   

“Fordham won their division last year, won their league and they were in the NCAAs,” Kerr said. “They’re going to be a formidable opponent.”   

The Blue Devils will likely primarily rely on seniors Cameron Moseley and Brian White to spearhead the attack. White is coming off a successful summer season with the New York Red Bulls U23 team, where he won MVP honors in the Professional Development League. Moseley had a hot start to preseason, scoring two goals against South Carolina including an impressive curling free kick into the corner of the net.    

Duke will also count on the team chemistry it developed during its road trip to Indiana to pay off on the field.

“They love being in each other’s company, they love bonding together, they love eating together,” Kerr said. “We had a great time in Indiana. We went putt-putt golfing. We went go-kart riding. So we kind of built another edge off our bonding.”