Just as it did nearly three years ago in the 2011 national championship game, Stanford broke a scoreless tie against Duke by winning a ball in the midfield and netting a header goal off a right-side feed after 50 minutes of deadlocked play.
The sixth-ranked Cardinal added an insurance goal in the closing minutes to seal a 2-0 victory against the 10th-ranked Blue Devils Sunday afternoon at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, handing Duke its first 0-2 start to the season since 1999.
“Sure, we’re 0-2, and that stinks a lot, but we got better this tournament,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “We’re better because we played two really good teams in this tournament…. We lose a ball in the midfield. We don’t close down on a player. We let a player get in between us. When you play a good team and you make a mistake—and it doesn’t take much—it ends up in the back of your net."
Two days after outshooting Ohio State by 15 in a season-opening loss to the Buckeyes, the Blue Devils struggled to create much space for themselves, firing just two shots in the first half without coming near the frame.
After starting five freshmen against Ohio State, Church put four first-years on the field Sunday and also brought sophomores Christina Gibbons and Rebecca Quinn back into the lineup.
The two just returned to Durham Tuesday after playing at the U-20 World Cup, and Gibbons said she is still learning her new teammates’ styles of play.
Stanford (2-0) also had few opportunities in the opening period after having defeated fourth-ranked North Carolina after 100 minutes in its first match of the UNC Nike Classic.
The Cardinal came closer to putting a tally on the board in the first half as senior forward Chioma Ubogagu put a free kick on target from about 25 yards out in the 24th minute, and teammate Lo’eau LaBonta hit the left post on her shot off the rebound.
Coming out of the break, Church made one change, opting for the veteran in redshirt senior midfielder Gilda Doria—who had recorded one of Duke’s two shots on goal in the 2011 final—and replacing defender Morgan Reid and moving Christina Gibbons from outside midfield to right back.
Doria, one of three captains, had come off the bench in both games so far after suffering a hamstring injury early in the preseason and returning to practice Monday.
“With such a young team, you need veteran leadership,” Church said. “You need her soccer brain. She’s been up and down and she knows the world’s not ending being 0-2 coming out of this tournament.”
Although the Blue Devils earned a corner kick and held possession deep into Stanford territory in the first 10 minutes after the restart, the Cardinal capitalized on its possession at last when freshman Andi Sullivan found senior Hannah Farr on the right wing, who took her time to find LaBonta streaking in to the far side of the box for a headed score.
“They won a ball at midfield by an inch or so. The girls slid right there and knocked it free,“ Church said. “They played a ball out. We have to close that service out better…. and we let a girl get in between us. Did that look like the national championship or what?”
Less than 90 seconds later, Duke had its best chance to equalize.
Coming up from her holding midfield position, Doria raced through the box to get her head on a cross from freshman forward Imani Dorsey, but the ball sailed over the frame.
“It was just served out form the left side of the field and I just ran through the box to get my head on it but again, just one opportunity isn’t enough. We need to keep creating more shots,” Doria said.
For the rest of the second half, Duke shifted to more offense-oriented formations, first moving up one back, then leaving two defenders on the back line.
“We’re not going to ever play for a game to be close,” Church said. “We’re always going to play to win in this program.”
The Blue Devils managed to fire off five second-half shots, but did not put any on goal, and the Cardinal eventually broke through Duke’s shorthanded defense as senior Haley Rosen received the ball around the six-yard box for an easy finish with less than six minutes to go.
Stanford kept Duke scoreless for the season to seal the win, but Doria, like Church, believes that the young team will benefit from the lessons learned.
“Although this is an unfortunate weekend, I think great teams come out of adversity,” Doria said. “So I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”