Sometimes just winning a game isn't enough.
Bouncing back from a loss to Maryland last weekend in their conference opener, the Blue Devils defeated Georgia Southern 1-0 Tuesday night at Koskinen Stadium. Although Duke came away with a positive result, the team identified a number of areas it wishes to work on in the coming weeks.
“We’re disappointed that we made so many opportunities and didn’t convert, and that’s been the song so far this season, that we’re pretty good offensively at creating some chances but we just can’t finish them off,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “If we keep on it like that, we’re going to get smothered at some point. We really need to focus on ending our opportunities.”
Junior midfielder Nick Palodichuk netted the lone tally for the Blue Devils (2-1-1) in the 50th minute, his first goal since missing most of last season with an injured ankle.
Sophomore forward Luis Rendon made a strong run down the left side of the field and played a cross into the box. After a few deflections, the ball dropped to sophomore midfielder Zach Mathers, who crossed it to the back post for Palodichuk to score.
“[Palodichuk is] a guy that we count on. He’s a big player for us,” Kerr said. “If he can get on the score sheet, either scoring goals or assisting goals, that’s good for us because he’s a dangerous player.”
Duke had no shortage of offensive opportunities in the first half but failed to find the back of the net. Controlling possession throughout, the Blue Devils outshot Georgia Southern (1-2-0) 15-2 in the opening 45 minutes. Duke put four shots on goal and hit the post three times in the first period but went into the locker room with the game scoreless.
Palodichuk broke the tie less than five minutes into the second half, but the Duke midfielder said that his team did not respond well to taking its first lead of the game.
"I think it made us actually too comfortable," Palodichuk said. "After we got the goal, we kind of sat back in and relaxed a little too much, and that’s when they started putting pressure on. It’s kind of detrimental. We need to learn when we get the lead, we need to keep pushing. We need more goals."
Searching for the tying goal, the Eagles raised the pressure on the Duke defense. Goalkeeper Alex Long kept Georgia Southern at bay in the final minutes, making eight saves in the second half to preserve his second shutout of the season.
After allowing three goals to Maryland in Duke's loss Friday, Long was able to get back on track with a clean sheet.
"We’re happy with his approach," Kerr said of his transfer netminder. "We saw him back there talking, and he was very safe with his handling. [He had] good distribution as well to start some attacks. It was a very positive performance from him.”
With a second ACC matchup against Virginia Tech just days away, the Blue Devils will look to improve on the offensive end but were ultimately satisfied with their defensive effort.
"My defense had a great game," Long said. "They stayed strong the whole time. They didn’t let up. I have their back, and that’s my job. We needed to bounce back, we needed to move forward, and there’s no better way to do that than a clean sheet and a win.”