Time running out for Blue Devils as Duke men's soccer hosts N.C. State

<p>Graduate student Mitch Kupstas and the Blue Devils must shore up the defensive end and finish chances in the offensive third of the pitch Friday against N.C. State.</p>

Graduate student Mitch Kupstas and the Blue Devils must shore up the defensive end and finish chances in the offensive third of the pitch Friday against N.C. State.

With just five games left on their schedule, the Blue Devils are still searching for their first ACC victory of the season.

Duke will host Triangle rival No. 23 N.C. State at Koskinen Stadium Friday at 7 p.m. looking to get its season back on track. The Blue Devils have failed to record a win all but one of their last nine matchups, but play four of their final five contests at home—a perfect opportunity to boost its resume as the start of postseason play approaches.

“Our chances are getting more limited as we move forward,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “We have a great opportunity to play a really good team on Friday night—a high RPI team. Luckily for us that’s the case so we can get back into it and get our first ACC win.”

Duke (5-6-2, 0-4-1 in the ACC) has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net, but not due to lack of opportunity. Despite outshooting opponents 15.3 to 11.4 per game and taking 91 corners to opponents’ 68, the Blue Devils have only averaged 1.8 goals per contest. Duke has only scored 23 goals through 13 matches.

In Tuesday’s 1-0 home loss to Holy Cross, the Blue Devils outshot the Crusaders 19-5—including 12 shots in the second half—but could not notch the equalizer in the final 25 minutes following Holy Cross’ goal. Sophomore Jeremy Ebobisse had a chance to tie the game with a shot on an open net in the last five minutes of the contest, but failed to put a shot on goal from four yards out. Since beginning the season on a hot streak that included five goals in his first five matches Duke’s leading scorer has gone cold. Ebobisse has registered one point since Sept. 11 but still leads the team with 13 on the year.

Despite starting off the season well, the Blue Devil defense has wavered down the stretch. Half of Duke’s 24 goals allowed this season have come in conference play. In their past few matches, the Blue Devils have given away a few easy goals due to momentary defensive lapses and will look to improve communication and concentration for Friday’s match.

“It’s really hard to make sure you concentrate the whole time and part of our challenge is doing that,” Kerr said. “We can learn from these lessons in terms of making sure that we’re sharp.”

The Wolfpack (7-2-3, 1-1-3) is fresh off a 2-1 upset win against No. 14 South Carolina Tuesday. N.C. State scored two goals in the last 15 minutes of the match to stun the Gamecocks, including an unassisted goal from sophomore midfielder Zach Knudson to put the Wolfpack ahead.

Although N.C. State will come to Durham with just one win in conference play, it has notched three impressive draws against Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Louisville, all of which were ranked at the time of the contest. The Wolfpack’s sole loss in the ACC came at the hands of defending national champion No. 19 Virginia on the road early in the season.

“They have a good team and they can attack from all angles,” Kerr said. “They are going to be a handful. They gave Notre Dame a run for their money and maybe even deserved to win that game. We know it’s going to be a really good challenge for us and we have to regroup to get ready and prepare ourselves.”

The Blue Devils will need to find a way to navigate N.C. State’s formidable defense Friday night. The Wolfpack have allowed just 12 goals and are ranked No. 49 in the country with 0.9 goals allowed per contest. This could prove challenging for the Duke offense, which has amassed 199 shots but have scored just 11.6 percent of the time.

Friday’s contest could very well be a do-or-die situation for the Blue Devils, who have yet to find traction in the ACC and have slipped since their strong start in nonconference play. An upset victory could keep Duke’s postseason aspirations alive, but a loss will likely close the door on tournament play for Kerr’s squad.

“We have a lot of quality in our team and a lot of talent,” Kerr said. “But at the same time, we need to be a lot sharper in many areas of the field and we have to take our chances."

Jesús Hidalgo contributed reporting.


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