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Hilliard faces old friends as Duke men's soccer welcomes Syracuse

<p>Defender Tyler Hilliard will look to slow down his former team when Syracuse visits Duke Friday night at Koskinen Stadium.</p>

Defender Tyler Hilliard will look to slow down his former team when Syracuse visits Duke Friday night at Koskinen Stadium.

Duke has not won a game since Sept. 8. And for that drought to come to an end on a wet Friday night at Koskinen Stadium, the Blue Devils may benefit from an inside scouting report from defender Tyler Hilliard and assistant coach Mike Miller.

After winning its first four games of the season, Duke has lost or tied each of its subsequent five matches. Now, the Blue Devils look to turn the tide against Syracuse—where Hilliard spent his undergraduate career and Miller coached on staff for four years—with the opening whistle against the Orange set for 7 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium.

“They’re a very good team,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “They’re talented, they’re smart [and] they’re quick on transition. They play a 3-5-2 so they overload the midfield a lot. We have to be very careful not to get stripped and allow them to take advantage of that. Our ball possession is key.”

Since its 5-1 rout of Loyola at home, Duke (4-3-2, 0-2-1 in the ACC) has struggled to maintain its early-season success. The Blue Devils—who checked in at No. 16 after their hot start—held their own through two overtimes against then-No. 5 Virginia, tying the defending national champions 2-2 to kick off conference play. 

Just four days later, the Blue Devils fell 3-0 to then-No. 24 UNC Wilmington for the fourth straight season. Duke struggled in the offensive third, as it was outshot 8-4 by the Seahawks and their top-ranked offense.

Three days after their first loss of the year, the Blue Devils hit the road for the first time in the regular season, and the slide continued. Duke lost 2-1 to then-No. 14 Clemson, and once again dropped the ball on the defensive end—allowing 15 total shots and seven shots on goal from the Tigers.

“We had some excellent wing play, but we didn’t get enough end results from our positive movements up front,” Kerr said. “We’re just trying to refine our movement in the final third and our finishing touch. Making sure we execute in the final third is key.”

Duke then traveled to then-No. 2 North Carolina looking to repeat last year's come-from-behind upset of a top-ranked Tar Heel squad. The game was initially postponed due to weather, but when the two teams did take the field, the Tar Heels outshot Duke 20-10 in a 2-1 victory that marked the Blue Devils’ third straight defeat.

Tuesday, Duke traveled to Davidson looking to rebound at the tail end of a tough road trip. Although the Blue Devils did not find the victory they have been hungry for, they managed to at least break their three-game losing streak. Duke drew the Wildcats 2-2 after two overtime periods, despite holding a 2-1 lead for most of the second half.

“We’ve had a tough stretch away from home,” Kerr said. “We’ve had some good performances—maybe not the best results—but we’re excited to be back home in front of our own crowd. We’re hoping to come back out on top.”

The Blue Devils will need to put on a stellar performance to prevent themselves from skidding further Friday night, as Syracuse (6-2-1, 1-1-1) boasts a very strong team on both ends of the field and is coming off of a hot streak. The Orange will come to Durham having won three straight contests by a combined score of 10-1, and are on the verge of cracking the top 25 thanks to their two latest shutouts.

Duke will have its hands full in the defensive third, as juniors Ben Polk and Oyvind Alseth have combined for seven goals and seven assists to pace the Syracuse attack. Sophomore Julian Buescher also poses a major threat, as he has either scored or assisted in each of the Orange’s last seven matches and leads the ACC with five assists. Syracuse averages 2.2 goals per contest on 15.6 shots.

“They play in the same formation that they did last year,” Hilliard said. “There are a few new players that I don’t know, but overall we really know their game plan between myself playing for Syracuse and Coach Miller having coached there. We’re pretty familiar with their program, so it just comes down to executing our game plan.”

Friday’s contest marks a critical point in the Blue Devils’ season. A loss would drop Duke to 4-4-2 ahead of contests next week No. 23 Hofstra Monday followed by No. 7 Notre Dame Oct. 10. This match against Syracuse could decide Duke’s outlook going into a series of tough matches and ultimately, the season overall.


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