Duke appears to have overcome its early-season slump with victories against Georgia State and Clemson last week.
A win against UNC Greensboro Tuesday at Koskinen Stadium would lift the Blue Devils above .500 for the first time this season.
Through two exhibition games and its four regular-season matchups, Duke (3-3) managed to string together just three goals. The Blue Devils worked out their offensive woes last week, however, scoring a combined five goals in their past two games. Duke head coach John Kerr credits the team’s work on specialty plays for their recent success on the offensive end.
Although the Blue Devils dominate the all-time series against UNC Greensboro 13-4, the Spartans (2-3-2) outlasted Duke 3-2 in its 2011 season opener.
“We want to resurrect that result in our favor this year,” Kerr said. “We started our season against them last year and lost at their place so we want to get one back on them for sure.”
To add to their win total, Duke will have to adjust to UNC Greensboro’s aggressive style of play. The Spartans force teams to deal with the long ball by making plays such as knocking the ball from their own defense 45 yards down field.
“A lot of things are going to come down to the second ball, meaning once the header goes up, who’s going to go to the second ball,” Kerr said. “Loose balls are going to be crucial to the match, and if we can win more than them in that category, I think we’ll do alright.”
Junior Sebastien Ibeagha, a defender, leads the Blue Devil attack with seven points on the season. Igbeagha, who has netted three of his seven shots this year, was selected to the All-ACC second team in 2011.
The Spartans counter with senior forward Hakan Ilhan, who has registered 11 points this year. Ilhan garnered first team All-Southern Conference honors last season after leading his team with 25 points—good for second in the conference.
“Hakan’s a very good forward,” UNC Greensboro head coach Justin Maullin said. “He’s very technical, a good back-to-goal player, and his movement in and around the box is very good.”
Kerr noted that paying close attention to Hakan’s movement is the key to neutralizing his attacking prowess.
“Hakan is a very talented player,” Kerr said. “He’s well-versed in the striker position, and he knows how to find the goal so we have to be very wary of him all the time. If you get your eye off him for one minute he’ll score a goal against you.”
Kerr was quick to praise the Spartans’ skill in set pieces, particularly their long throw to the back post and corner kicks. Maullin agrees that set pieces are an area where his team’s talent lies.
“We’re pretty good at set pieces, we’re technical, we’re organized and we’ve figured out how to defend now,” Maullin said.