Last time Duke faced off with Southern Methodist, the current seniors were beginning their college careers and the Blue Devils were handed a 1-0 overtime loss. Three years later, Duke has a chance to turn the tables on the struggling Mustangs.
The Blue Devils will take on Southern Methodist Friday at 8:30 p.m. EST at Westcott Field in Dallas. The two programs come off of divergent starts to their respective seasons—Duke won its second consecutive John Rennie/Nike Invitational Tournament while the Mustangs got thumped twice in a row and were held scoreless on a road trip to Michigan and Michigan State. Despite Southern Methodist's weekend struggles, the Blue Devils are hesitant to underestimate their opponent.
“We know that they’re a great program, a great team, so we’re not dwelling on anything that they’ve done in the past,” senior midfielder Sean Davis said. “They’re looking for their first win and it’s their first game at home, so we know its going to be a battle.”
Composed of a near-majority of freshmen, the new-look Blue Devils (1-0-1) appeared worlds away from last year’s squad this past weekend. After struggling to complete games and find the back of the net a season ago, Duke thrashed Stetson 8-2 Sunday.
“The impressive thing was our runs in the box—we didn’t have just one or two guys with the opportunity to cross the ball in the box, we had four guys looking to score,” head coach John Kerr said. “That’s very hard to deal with for the other team. For me, that’s encouraging.”
Davis—who with three assists was named the tournament’s MVP—said that he was most proud of how the Blue Devils overcame an early deficit to ultimately dominate the game.
“We have a lot of offensive threats this year,” Davis said. “What people overlook is that we were down 2-1 at half. The big thing for us is being able to overcome a poor first half and bounce back in the second half.”
The game is a welcome respite from the fierce competition coming when the Blue Devils start their ACC slate. Four fellow conference teams—Notre Dame, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville—are ranked in the top ten in the national standings. Kerr said that the team appreciates the chance to play without extra in-conference pressure.
“It’s something different, something new,” he said. “Our league is such a bear, and every game is always tough in the ACC, that it’s nice to play some outside competition that doesn’t know you as well.”
In order to stay unbeaten, the Blue Devils will have to contain Mustang forward Colten Habecker, who notched three shots on goal against Michigan in only 47 minutes of action. Junior transfer Idrissa Camara is also one of the Mustang’s top offensive options, attempting three shots on goal in Southern Methodist’s first two games. Despite their efforts, the Mustangs (0-2-0) were collectively outshot 17-31 by Michigan and Michigan State.
For what Southern Methodist lacks in offensive firepower, it makes up for with its defensive effort. Mustang goalkeeper Michael Nelson tallied seven saves in the team’s near-upset of Michigan State and notched an additional three against Michigan. The Mustang defenders also held the Spartans scoreless for 78 minutes in their season opener.
Another concern for the Blue Devils is the Dallas heat. Friday has a projected high temperature of 99 degrees. Though the team is used to unforgiving Durham summers and played in temperatures in the upper 80s this past weekend, the weather is sure to challenge the team's endurance.
“Obviously it’s a concern, but SMU has to deal with it as well,” Kerr said. “It’s only about five degrees cooler in North Carolina and I think we’re training at a good part of the day when it’s blistery and hot. We’re trying to keep our concentration even when it’s really hard.”