The 2014 season has not begun exactly as head coach Robbie Church and his Blue Devils envisioned, but it is up to this young squad to turn it all around as soon as possible.
After dropping its first two games of the season in last weekend’s Nike Classic hosted by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, now-unranked Duke will head to Morgantown, W.Va., Friday to face the No. 13 Mountaineers at 7:30 p.m at Dick Dlesk Stadium. This is the first time in Church’s tenure that the Blue Devils will travel to Morgantown.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Church said. “[West Virginia] has a massive reputation of being a really tough place to play…. So, [we’re] looking forward to it. They’re nationally ranked this week, which is great…. They are by far the best attacking team that we’ve faced…. We need that opportunity to beat a good team and I think we’ll play well.”
Duke (0-2) is still looking for its first goal of the season as it heads into its third game. Despite posting 22 total shots in the matchup against Ohio State, none found the back of the net. Against Stanford, the Blue Devils were also held scoreless and were limited to just seven shots.
West Virginia (1-1) has not had a problem scoring—in their first two matches of the season, the Mountaineers have netted four goals—but they have had a problem defensively, allowing five goals to their opponents.
With a seemingly porous back line for West Virginia and Duke searching hungrily for its first goal of the season, it would seem that the opportunity has come for the Blue Devil offense to explode.
Church said that he would like to be able to get to a point where he can utilize a 4-3-3 formation instead of the current 4-2-3-1 so that the forwards can play higher on the attack instead of trailing behind to help defensively or play through the one center forward.
Getting numbers into the scoring area to aid the offense is something that Duke will need to improve upon as well. After getting some more work in this week—including possibly changing the formation they play in—the attacking midfielders and forwards may be more comfortable doing that. But Church emphasized that there was really one key to getting the offense in shape: aggressiveness.
“I don’t think that we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve attacked [opponents] as aggressively as we need to,” Church said. “Some of that’s experience, some of that’s formations, and some of that we just didn’t even go at them…. I thought we were a little tentative sometimes…so we need to keep working on that aggressiveness, that attacking mentality.”
Because this is such a young team, it will be important for the Blue Devils, particularly the younger players, to gain confidence in Friday's matchup, which could play a big part in their performance for the rest of the season. It will be important for those with experience, especially the seniors, to keep the proverbial head of this team square on its shoulders.
It will also benefit Duke that three of their best players—midfielders Gilda Doria and Rebecca Quinn and defender Christina Gibbons—got another week of practice in this week to help build the chemistry of the team after long absences due to injury or international play.
“Gilda came back to practice last Monday,” Church said. “Rebecca Quinn and Christina Gibbons came back to practice last Wednesday and then we turned around and played. So three of our very talented players have had very little practice…. 0-2 it’s so early that you don’t really look a lot at the record. The question is 'Are we better than we [were before] this weekend?' Yes, no question about it.”
The Blue Devils face a quick turnaround for the second consecutive weekend, as Duke will return home to Koskinen Stadium to face UAB (1-0) Sunday at 6 p.m.