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Duke men's soccer hosts Iona looking to continue early momentum

<p>Sophomore Jeremy Ebobisse and the Blue Devils will look to push their record to 3-0 Saturday against Iona.</p>

Sophomore Jeremy Ebobisse and the Blue Devils will look to push their record to 3-0 Saturday against Iona.

It is an exciting time for the Blue Devils, who are off to their first 2-0 start since  2009.

After picking up two wins last weekend against Saint Mary’s and DePaul in the John Rennie Nike Invitational, Duke will look to keep the wins rolling as it hosts Iona Saturday at Koskinen Stadium at 7 p.m.

“We need to keep getting those wins up on our ledger and keep moving forward,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “It’s early in the season and we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re happy to be 2-0 right now.”

The Blue Devils kicked off their regular-season campaign and the John Rennie Nike Invitational Aug. 28 against the Gaels. The Duke sophomores shined in the contest, with defender Markus Fjørtoft opening the floodgates in the first half and classmate Jeremy Ebobisse following suit with two goals of his own after intermission. Although the Blue Devils’ offensive prowess was on full display, their defense was lacking as Saint Mary’s knocked in two goals of its own in the final 28 minutes of the contest to make things interesting.

Sunday’s match against DePaul proved to be a defensive showcase for Duke, which posted its first shutout since last October. The Blue Devils’ lone goal came from senior captain and two-time All-ACC choice Zach Mathers, who shook off multiple defenders at the top of the box and fired a rocket off of his left foot into the back of the net. Although not for a lack of opportunities, the Duke offensive line struggled to convert—an issue both Mathers and Kerr attributed to lethargy.

“I thought we did really well on Friday night [against Saint Mary's],” Mathers said. “[Sunday] was a bit slower—understandably we were a bit fatigued. We can learn from that by watching film and picking up our pace at the right time.”

The Blue Devils have five days of rest and practice before moving on to face Iona, which is coming off a disappointing performance at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott JMU Invitational last weekend. The Gaels took on James Madison Friday night in Harrisonburg, Va., but after two overtime periods, neither side could prevail and the match concluded in a 1-1 draw. Iona then faced Radford, which took the 1-0 victory on a penalty kick in the 40th minute.

The Gaels have sat atop the MAAC standings while boasting winning seasons in seven of their last nine campaigns—including in 2014, when they finished 9-7-3. Duke will face a big challenge in navigating Iona’s veteran defense. After a slow and lackluster performance from the Blue Devils’ front line Sunday, the Gaels’ stout back line may be just the spark necessary to jump-start the attacking mentality Duke showed against Saint Mary's.

“We’re always open to adjusting if need be,” Kerr said. “[Sometimes] we need to take advantage of a situation or we need to cope with a situation. Those are adjustments we make once...we determine who our opponents are.”

The Blue Devils will once again have a quick turnaround between games after completing their contest against Iona. Duke will host Loyola Tuesday at 7 p.m. before opening conference play at home against reigning national champion No. 2 Virginia Friday at 7 p.m.

After completing a long home stretch by hosting UNC Wilmington Sept. 15, the Blue Devils will hit the road to take on Clemson Sept. 18.

“We need to pick it up a notch because the meat of our season is coming up soon with the ACC schedule,” Kerr said. “Those games aren’t going to be easy, so we need to be more consistent throughout the game.”

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