The Duke men’s soccer team was 11-0, off to its best start since 1982, and ranked second in the nation on the first of October. At the same time a highly-touted Wake Forest team was 3-3-1 and reeling from three straight losses.
It seemed like tonight’s matchup with the No. 9 Demon Deacons (12-3-1, 5-1) in the ACC) could decide the ACC regular season championship. It still could, but only for the Demon Deacons, as they would clinch the title if they earn their 10th straight victory at 7 p.m. in Koskinen Stadium.
Although three straight conference losses have dropped the Blue Devils (13-4, 3-3) to fourth in the ACC, they will still have plenty to play for, including their first winning conference record since the 2000 season and a favorable seeding for the upcoming ACC Tournament. With a full slate of conference games this weekend, Duke could finish anywhere from third to sixth in the ACC.
“I’m not going to say it’s a do or die situation,” sophomore defender Danny Miller said. “But, in order for us to get our confidence back up and bring a new streak into the postseason, this game is incredibly crucial.”
Head coach John Rennie expects the athletic Demon Deacons to try to posses the ball and control the tempo of the game.
Although the scores have not shown it, the Rennie said Duke has been playing some of its best soccer in recent games. All four of the Blue Devils’ losses this season have been by one goal, including a 3-2 overtime nailbiter at No. 10 Virginia.
“It’s frustrating, of course, because we’re losing,” freshman forward Spencer Wadsworth said. “When it matters, it will come for us because we’ve been unlucky.”
Tonight’s regular season finale will feature two top teams that are each anchored by standout freshmen. Earlier this week, four Duke freshmen received Top Drawer Soccer All-Freshman honors. Forward Wadsworth and midfielder Michael Videira were named to the first team, while Paul Dudley and Zachary Pope earned honorable mentions. Demon Deacon rookies Patrick Phelan, Julian Valentin and Brian Edwards also received national recognition.
“It means a lot, but I’m going to try to be humble about it,” said Wadsworth, who has five goals and six assists on the season. “I won’t let it get to my head.”
The Blue Devils lead the all-time series 17-11-4, but Wake Forest has had the edge lately. Two of the Duke’s final three losses in 2003 came at the hands of the Demon Deacons, the second of which came in the opening round of the ACC Tournament.
The 2004 ACC Tournament begins Wednesday in Cary.
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