Duke men's soccer closes homestand with UNC Wilmington

<p>Goalkeeper Wilson Fisher and the Blue Devils will look to contain UNC Wilmington Tuesday and snap a three-match losing streak against the Seahawks.</p>

Goalkeeper Wilson Fisher and the Blue Devils will look to contain UNC Wilmington Tuesday and snap a three-match losing streak against the Seahawks.

After tying reigning national champion No. 5 Virginia in their biggest test of the season Friday night, the Blue Devils are set to host UNC Wilmington to wrap up their six-game homestand.

Duke is off to its best start to a campaign in nine years, having gone undefeated through its first five contests for the first time since 2006. Now, the Blue Devils will take on the Seahawks at Koskinen Stadium Tuesday at 7 p.m. looking to avenge their loss from last season.

“They have beaten us the last three times we played them,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “They are a top team with some good players, so we are very aware of how dangerous and talented they are. It will not be an easy game and we are taking nothing for granted.”

Against the Cavaliers Friday, the Blue Devils (4-0-1) went ahead in the first half when sophomore defender Markus Fjørtoft headed a cross into the back of the net for his second goal of the season. Although Virginia quickly retaliated with two goals of its own, Duke was able to rally back with a goal from sophomore striker Jeremy Ebobisse, who leads all scorers with five goals and two assists on the season.

Despite the 2-2 draw, the Blue Devils outplayed the Cavaliers and proved themselves as a force to be reckoned with against even the most elite competition. Duke enjoyed a 21-19 shot advantage and took 14 corner kicks—10 more than Virginia. Even in the most aggressive game they have played this season—with eight total yellow cards doled out between the two sides—the Blue Devils dominated on the defensive end as well. Duke held the Cavaliers without a look at the goal through the first 18 minutes of play. Despite a brief lapse in the last few minutes of the first half and the first few minutes of the second, the back line successfully dismantled a Virginia offense known for its prowess on the counter-attack.

“We take a lot of confidence in that performance,” Kerr said. “We were competing against the defending national champions, who are stingy defensively. They gave up [very few] goals last season, so for us to not only score two goals on them but [also] create a lot of chances is great.”

The Blue Devils have held firm in the defensive third of the field after struggling last season. Duke has held opponents to an average of 10.6 shots and 5.4 corner kicks per game through its opening five contests and has only allowed six goals this season.

When compared with the young back line that allowed a conference-high 34 goals in 2014, this year’s defensive improvement—chaired by sophomores Fjørtoft and Kevon Black and graduate transfers Jared Rist and Tyler Hilliard—becomes all the more impressive.

“We were going 4-0 through our first four games of the season, and then our first big test was in the ACC against Virginia and I thought we passed that test,” Kerr said. “It’s only our first game [in the ACC], and we have a long way to go, but it was good to see that we could compete at that level with the top teams in the country.”

UNC Wilmington (4-0-1) started the year with a scoreless tie against High Point, but has gone on to defeat every other opponent it has faced. The Seahawks blew out their three most recent opponents by at least a four-goal margin and have averaged 3.6 goals while allowing just 0.8 goals per match.

Duke’s challenge Friday night will be trying to thwart senior Colin Bonner’s offensive impact for UNC Wilmington. The Fulton, Md., native leads his team with five goals and four assists, and posted the third hat trick of his career in the Seahawks’ 5-1 rout of North Florida Sept. 4. Fellow forward and classmate Ben Fisher  follows close behind Bonner with three goals and three assists of his own. In UNC Wilmington’s most recent contest against South Carolina, Fisher supplied two of the Seahawks’ five goals.

“[Bonner] is a tough character and a good player,” Kerr said. “We have to be aware of him at all times and make sure that we have coverage. Whoever is on him has to have someone behind him just in case he gets through. He’s a tough opponent, for sure.”

Duke will be coming into this game with a chip on its shoulder, as it fell to UNC Wilmington 2-1 in 2014. Jacob VanCompernolle, who has since graduated, was responsible for both of the Seahawks’ goals in last year’s contest. The Blue Devils—who return eight starters—will be facing a fairly different looking team than the one that beat them last season.

Following Tuesday’s matchup, Duke will hit the road to challenge No. 8 Clemson Friday at 7 p.m. The Blue Devils will then travel down Tobacco Road to take on ACC rival No. 3 North Carolina Sept. 25.

Seth Johnson contributed reporting.


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