From leading Division I in scoring offense to shutting out nearly 60 percent of the teams it has played, Maryland has validated its No. 1 ranking.
The Terrapins will pose the ultimate test to the Blue Devils’ defensive solidarity, which has been the hallmark of the team this season. Duke (4-5-1, 2-2-1 in the ACC) will look to dethrone the Terrapins (10-0-1, 4-0-0) from their position atop the conference standings Friday at Koskinen Stadium.
Four Maryland players have scored at least four goals on the season, led by junior Patrick Mullins with seven.
“They can hit you from all angles,” Blue Devil head coach John Kerr said. “The challenge is to make sure you’re covering all the angles, and that’s difficult, but we have a good defense and great leadership back there.”
Allowing just nine goals and recording 41 saves on the season, Duke senior James Belshaw has posted an impressive save percentage of 82 percent, which will render it difficult for Maryland to find the back of the net. The lone blip in the Terrapins’ record—a tie with UCLA—came to the only team that Maryland has played with a higher save percentage than the Blue Devils.
Belshaw anchors the defense, which is coming off a strong performance against N.C. State last Friday. Duke limited the ACC’s leading scorer, Wolfpack junior Alex Martinez, to just three shots, none of which were on goal.
“We played really well,” junior Sebastien Ibeagha said. “We shut them out, which says a lot in itself. N.C. State was a good game for us, and we hope to keep that going.”
Ibeagha, a defender, scored the only goal in the victory against the Wolfpack. He leads the Blue Devils in scoring with five goals, tied for fifth in the ACC. Four of his five tallies have come from set pieces.
“Right now [set pieces] are our forte in terms of hurting other teams,” Kerr said.
Capitalizing on free kick opportunities, however, will not be enough to lift Duke past the Terrapins. To pull off the upset, the Blue Devils will need to generate more scoring opportunities in the regular run of play. They are last in the ACC in shots per game, and their scoring rate of 1.1 goals per game is almost three times lower than Maryland’s nation-leading clip of 3.1. In their past four games, Duke has mustered just three goals in comparison to the Terrapins’ 10.
“We’re trying to get our midfield more to the attack,” Kerr said. “Obviously the forward players are involved, but we need to get our midfielders into more dangerous positions as we move forward into the attack.”
Although Duke is an unranked, low-scoring team, it is not an opponent that Maryland should overlook. All five of the Blue Devils’ losses, including a 2-1 loss to No. 2 North Carolina in double overtime, have been by only one goal.