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Duke men's soccer hosts UNC Charlotte in final tune-up contest

<p>Returning leading scorer Brody Huitema will look to give the Blue Devils an offensive spark Friday night against the 49ers in Duke’s final exhibition of the preseason.</p>

Returning leading scorer Brody Huitema will look to give the Blue Devils an offensive spark Friday night against the 49ers in Duke’s final exhibition of the preseason.

After coming off a rigorous and laser-focused preseason, Duke will test its stamina as it faces a nationally ranked UNC Charlotte squad in its second and final exhibition match.

The Blue Devils will take on the No. 17 49ers at Koskinen Stadium Friday at 7 p.m. in their home debut. Duke is coming off of a 2-1 victory against the College of Charleston one week ago, and UNC Charlotte shut out Elon with a 1-0 win last Sunday.

“I see [the contest] as a fun challenge to see where we’re at and where we need to get to,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “A lot of questions were answered in the Charleston game and I think even more questions will be answered [Friday].”

Friday’s matchup will serve as a homecoming for 16 of Kerr’s players, but six Blue Devils will play at the newly renovated Koskinen Stadium for the first time. Duke posted a 9-9-1 record in 2014 and went 4-4-0 in conference play. The offensive attack will be spearheaded by junior forward Brody Huitema—last season’s leading scorer who will look to best his five goals and five assists from 2014. Two-time All-ACC choice Zach Mathers will anchor the defense and help ground a young roster in his senior season after completing a summer campaign with the U-23 Carolina RailHawks.

Kerr’s six newcomers include three graduate transfers and three freshmen from abroad. Defenders Tyler Hilliard and Jared Rist—graduate transfers from Syracuse and Georgetown—will provide reinforcements for a roster that lost senior captain Sean Davis. Mitch Kupstas—who graduated from Brown—adds to the Blue Devils’ already talented goalkeeping depth. Freshmen Ciaran McKenna and Oliver Spring should make an immediate impact after impressing during preseason, but Torbjørn Alseth will not see the field right away after sustaining a foot fracture before arriving on campus.

“The current members of the team who have been here have really opened up their arms to these guys [and] they’re fitting in great,” Kerr said. “They seem to be hitting the ground running. Adjustments have been made and it seems like they’ve already been here for a while.”

The 49ers went 14-4-1 overall in 2014 and only sustained one loss in conference play. They earned a No. 10 seed in last season’s NCAA tournament, but fell to North Carolina—ranked fifth in this year’s preseason poll—in the second round. UNC Charlotte looks to complete its fifth straight season culminating in an NCAA tournament appearance.

The 49ers dominated Elon in Sunday’s exhibition contest, allowing the Phoenix just three shots in 90 minutes of play. The lone goal of the match came off a free-kick headed into the net by freshman Maclean Holbrook.

Duke’s biggest challenge in taking on the 49ers will be senior Kyle Parker. The Marvin, N.C., native led the team last season with nine goals and also provided seven assists. The forward is the preseason favorite for Conference USA Player of the Year and has recently been added to the MAC Hermann Trophy men’s watch list. Junior Brandt Bronico and redshirt senior Dominic Bonilla will also pose a major threat for the Blue Devil defense, as the two midfielders combined for 8 goals and 14 assists last season.

“This is a very talented Charlotte team,” Kerr said. “I don’t see [the contest] as a challenge other than fighting through the fatigue of preseason while knowing you have to perform against a top team in the country.”

Between Parker’s offensive prowess and the back line’s stifling defense, UNC Charlotte will certainly be an early test for Duke as the season rapidly approaches. The Blue Devils will officially kick off the season when they host St. Mary’s at the John Rennie Nike Invitational Aug. 28.

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