With four more games in the regular season and at least one ACC tournament game remaining, Duke must win three of those to be eligible for an NCAA Tournament selection.
The Blue Devils are treating this home stretch as a must-win situation, beginning at 7 p.m. tonight against Davidson at Koskinen Stadium.
“The biggest thing is the urgency,” head coach John Kerr said. “We feel like every game going forward is a playoff game, like a knockout tournament. We’re approaching it that way so our energy level has to be high, our approach and concentration have to be on. And we have to get more aggressive in the final third and get some goals.”
Duke (5-7-1) is coming off a 1-0 loss at home to Boston College that epitomized a problem plaguing the squad all season—not capitalizing on scoring chances. The Blue Devils held the advantage in shots and corner kicks.
“One of the things we’ve been working on, it’s evident for everyone to see, is we haven’t scored enough goals this season,” senior goalkeeper James Belshaw said. “That’s what we’ve been working on: scoring goals, staying sharp at the back and getting that hunger and desire to do whatever it takes tomorrow night to get a win.”
The team is focusing on positioning more bodies in the box in an effort to benefit from scoring opportunities, Kerr said. Instead of positioning two or three players in the box, Duke will try to push four or five forward, including outside backs playing in the attacking third of the field.
“We need to make sure we’re doing the last little bit that it takes to make sure we’re scoring, or getting in those positions,” Kerr said. “For me, we’re on the right track. We just have to make sure we connect on the last 10-15 percent that we’re lacking.”
This strategy will be especially crucial against Davidson (6-8-1), a defensive-minded team. The Wildcats play a 4-1-4-1, so they tend to keep five players back on defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, 6-foot-3 senior forwards Andrew DiLallo and Brian McGue lead Davidson’s attack. DiLallo and McGue cause trouble for opposing defenses with their height advantage, especially on corner kicks and set plays. Duke will need Belshaw and junior Sebastien Ibeagha to stay sharp.
“We’re preparing to win,” Belshaw said. “We have four games left in the regular season, and if we want to play postseason soccer, then we need to win.”