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Midfielders set to fill Davis' shoes for Duke soccer

<p>Brody Huitema lead the Blue Devils in scoring last year, and his production will be even more crucial this season as Duke adapts to life without two-time captain Sean Davis.</p>

Brody Huitema lead the Blue Devils in scoring last year, and his production will be even more crucial this season as Duke adapts to life without two-time captain Sean Davis.

As Duke gets set to start its new season, there will be one key absentee from last year when the team takes the field.

Although the Blue Devils lost six players from last year’s squad, no one will leave bigger shoes to fill than ACC Midfielder of the Year and team captain Sean Davis. Davis—who now plies his trade for the New York Red Bulls—was the anchor of Duke’s midfield and leader on the field. His lengthy list of accomplishments in Durham—33 career points, three-time All-ACC selection, two-time team captain and two-time team Most Valuable Offensive Player—leaves behind a gaping hole in his absence.

Replacing Davis’ on-field production will be a major question mark facing the Blue Devils in the beginning of the season and will be key in order for the squad to enter the postseason.

“He was the focal point for our team last year,” head coach John Kerr said. “But we have three great central midfielders with Cody Brinkman, [Zach] Chachi Mathers, and Ciaran McKenna, who’s come in and done a great job. We have a great rotation with those three right now, and depending on injuries and availability, we’ll probably rotate them throughout the season in those positions because all three of them are deserving of time and all three of them are doing great jobs.”

To fill in Davis’ role in the heart of the midfield, Duke will have a committee of players step up. Losing Davis, along with his defensive midfield partner Nat Eggleston, means that players who have not seen the field much will be charged with shielding the defense and keeping the offense ticking from the midfield.

Those tasks will fall largely on the shoulders of Brinkman and McKenna, who have zero college goals combined. Brinkman started eight games as a freshman last year, and McKenna—who hails from Glasgow, Scotland—has yet to play American soccer at any level.

“On the field, it’s a big hole to fill in the midfield, one of the main positions we need to be able to control the ball,” junior forward Brody Huitema said.”We had Ciaran come in this year as a central midfielder and we have a lot of depth in the position, so I think we’ll be fine without him. Obviously, it’s a big loss, but I think we’ll be able to cope.”

Although all three of those players will be key to helping replace Davis and controlling games from the midfield, Mathers will be the player most expected to fill Davis’ shoes. The Keller, Texas, native was a captain last season and an All-ACC third team choice. Mathers, who has spent time in both defense and midfield during his Blue Devil career, brings both the technical and defensive ability that should help ease the loss of Davis.

Mathers—referred to as “Chachi” by his teammates and coaches—will not only look to help make up for some of Davis’ on-field production, but will also serve as a mentor for the underclassmen, something that Kerr says should not be a problem for him.

“[Mathers] has been a leader since he’s gotten here,” Kerr said. “He’s stepped on the field since minute one of his freshman year and hasn’t missed a beat…he’s a real leader by example.”

Davis may have been a defensive midfielder, but he was also the team’s main creative offensive asset, leading the conference in assists with 10 last season. Finding that production this season will go beyond just Mathers, Brinkman and McKenna in the midfield, but will take players in other positions stepping up as well.

“I think it’s going to be by committee,” Kerr said. “I don’t think we’re just going to have one guy. I mean Chachi can find that through ball, he’s very good at that. And we’re counting on Cameron [Moseley] and Macario [Hing-Glover] to give us a lot of assists from wide positions because they’re dangerous going forward and they can get in behind defenses and we’re good in the middle. So I think if we get good crosses in early, they’ll probably lead the team in assists.”

Finding a replacement for the team’s midfield anchor, chief creator and on-and-off-the-field leader is obviously a difficult task for just one player to be able to accomplish. However, this Blue Devil squad has enough talent and depth at several positions to make Davis’ absence less noticeable when the season kicks off this Friday against St. Mary’s. 

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