After escaping a few nonconference tuneups unbeaten, Duke will be put to the test Friday night.
The Blue Devils will return to action in one of the most competitive soccer leagues in the country in their ACC opener against Virginia Tech in Koskinen Stadium at 7 p.m. Duke enters the game with a chip on its shoulder after a disappointing 1-1 draw against Presbyterian Tuesday.
The Blue Devils and the Blue Hose traded goals between multiple second-half weather delays, and the game turned into a sloppy, defensive battle. Duke freshman goalkeeper Will Pulisic stood tall in goal, making a crucial diving save on a Blue Hose free kick from 25 yards out. Senior Brian White leads the way for the Blue Devils on offense this season with three goals, only two shy of his season total a year ago.
“Everybody recognizes the top league in the country, and we know each game is going to be a battle.” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “Each game means so much in the standings, and when you have your home games, you want to win them. That’s what we plan on doing tomorrow night.”
The Hokies (2-2-0) beat the Blue Devils 3-1 last season and come into Durham in the midst of a five-game road trip to open the season. Virginia Tech came from behind to beat Binghamton 2-1 last Sunday, as senior Marcelo Acuna scored both goals. His three goals on the season lead the Hokies, with senior Collin Verfurth and sophomore James Kasak each also recording one apiece.
White and the rest of the Blue Devil offense will have their hands full with Virginia Tech's back line. Hokie goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard leads the ACC in saves with 20 on the season, and his 5.0 saves per game is also tops in the conference.
Duke (3-0-1) has proven it can produce goals when needed. Senior Markus Fjortoft is second on the squad with two goals, and the Blue Devils are averaging 18.0 shots per game, good for second in the conference and eighth in the nation. That is a dramatic improvement from last season, when Duke averaged just 12.2 shots per contest.
“We are playing well and we [have] a lot of confidence.” Kerr said. “I like this group, they are really jelling together each day. I really like us going forward. I feel like we can do some damage going forward. [This weekend] is a good chance to start off the ACC season with a win.”
The Blue Devils are led by their veterans looking to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time of their careers, with six seniors in the starting lineup against Presbyterian Tuesday. Fjortoft, a native of Asker, Norway, has played an integral role his whole career. Out of 5,540 minutes the team has played in the past four seasons, Fjortoft has been on the field for 5,363 of them.
Duke and Virginia Tech are meeting for the 19th time overall, with the Blue Devils leading the series 11-3-4. Although the Hokies won the matchup last season, they have never beat Duke in consecutive seasons.
“We haven’t been focusing on [the loss] that much.” Kerr said. “We did remind them that we didn’t perform very well in that game, but we are just concentrating on what we are doing now, and we have a lot of different personnel. We are just making sure everybody knows their responsibility and understands the game plan.”