The prevailing question entering the 2013 season was how Duke was going to replace three starters on its defensive line and its starting goaltender from last year. But six games into the campaign, it is offensive struggles that continue to plague the Blue Devils.
No. 12 Duke mustered only a penalty kick goal in the game’s final seconds in a 2-1 loss to No. 2 UCLA Sunday in the Duke Nike Classic at Koskinen Stadium.
The Blue Devils came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with No. 9 West Virginia Friday night, and quickly fell behind again Sunday. In the eighth minute, Bruin forward Taylor Smith spun by Natasha Anasi at midfield, attacking up the right sideline before dishing off to forward Rosie White, who rifled a shot to the left of a diving Ali Kershner to give UCLA (5-1) the early 1-0 edge.
Kershner was under constant fire early as the Blue Devils were sloppy with the ball, failing to clear their third and giving the Bruins extra attacking opportunities. Fortunately for Duke (3-2-1), UCLA was unable to capitalize further on the Blue Devils' first half miscues, as none of the Bruins’ eight other shots found their way past Kerhsner.
With 23:30 remaining in the opening period, Church went to his bench, subbing out three of Duke’s senior leaders—Anasi, Laura Weinberg and Mollie Pathman. The trio sat on the bench for the remainder of the first half.
“They were not good enough at that time for this game,” Church said. “But we gave them a shot to come back in in the second half, and they did a good job when they came back in. At this level, you have to play a full game, and today we played one half.”
The Blue Devils went deep into the bench as the game progressed, using 19 players in the first half. Kershner and freshmen Christina Gibbons, Lizzy Raben and Malinda Allen were the only Duke players to play the full 45 minutes.
“I knew that the people who were coming on were going to be able to make an impact,” Gibbons said. “Anytime a few different people come in, you have some adjusting to do, and a lot of communicating, and I think everyone stepped up.”
Gibbons and Allen were Duke’s two representatives on the All-Tournament Team.
“It was a learning experience, just to be on the field with such talented players. I’m humbled,” Gibbons said.
Church said he was pleased with how his subs responded against the second-ranked team in the country.
“We brought in some young players and they saved us. They gave us a chance to win in the second half,” Church said. “They brought a lot of energy.”
Sloppy ball-handling allowed UCLA to control the ball for much of the first half, limiting Duke’s offensive opportunities. The Blue Devils managed just three first-half shots on goal, the most promising of which came in the 28th minute, when Payne eluded two Bruin defenders in the box after a steal by Kim DeCesare. Payne was able to get off a shot in cramped spacing, but the ball was smothered by Bruin goalie Katelyn Rowland.
“When we get a build-up, we’re just not being rewarded for some of our nice plays,” Church said. “But I credit the goalie, she’s one of the best we’ll see in goal all year.”
With Anasi, Pathman and Weinberg all reinserted into the lineup, the Blue Devils got many more promising looks at the goal in the second half, including several corner kicks, all of which were stymied by the Bruin defense.
Church said the team’s offensive frustrations are starting to weigh on the Blue Devils.
“We’re six games in, we’ve scored a couple times on penalties, so maybe we have to go back and make sure we have the right players in the right places.” Church said. “They’re great soccer players and they’re going to score goals, but they’re just struggling in that area right now.”
The Bruins tacked on their second goal in the 78th minute thanks to a Duke defensive breakdown. The ball was lofted to the right, where forward Darian Jenkins approached the ball uncontested. Kershner left the net to challenge, but it was too late. Jenkins poked the ball past the goalie, and it rolled untouched into the net.
Duke was awarded a penalty kick with three seconds remaining, and Pathman pushed it past Rowland to prevent the shutout.
“We’re going through some growing pains, but this is why we play this schedule—to learn before we go through the ACC,” Church said. “We’ve got to be more consistent, because we’re running out of time.”