It has been a week of firsts for the Blue Devils—their first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2011, their first time seeded since 2006 and junior Max Moser and freshman Kristofer Garðarsson’s first goals this season in last weekend's victory.
After being eliminated in the Sweet 16 in overtime against New Mexico in 2011, Duke will now try to make it to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2006 and the first time under head coach John Kerr.
No. 6 seed Duke will return to its home field at Koskinen Stadium Saturday night at 6 after a first-round bye and a second-round 2-1 victory against Florida International. The Blue Devils will face a dangerous Fordham team coming off a 1-0 road victory against No. 11 seed Virginia last Saturday. Duke also pulled out a 1-0 win against the Cavaliers in their last game of the regular season, so it can learn from the Rams' similar blueprint for their upset.
“We got a lot. We’ve got to do our little homework,” Kerr said when asked about the preparation for this game last weekend. “We know Virginia inside and out.”
Duke will be challenged by an impressive Rams defensive unit. In their victory against Virginia, they only allowed five shots on goal, as goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu wrapped up his 11th shutout of the season. The Blue Devils faced the Rams in their second game of the John Rennie Nike Invitational in August and shut them out 3-0, scoring the most goals Fordham has given up all season.
Although the Blue Devils were able to stop Florida International in the backfield, they were still missing a major component of their defense. Senior Markus Fjørtoft, after receiving a red card in the ACC quarterfinal matchup against Clemson, was suspended for the game against the Panthers. Kerr changed up the lineup, putting senior Carter Manley where Fjørtoft generally plays in the center back position and having sophomore Jack Doran replace Manley on the outside. Fjørtoft is expected to return against Fordham.
“We did play Fordham, and they’re a good team,” Kerr said. “We remember them very well, they’re very talented and very potent offensively. We have to review some of their tapes from their recent games and get ourselves in a position to sort them out, but luckily Markus Fjørtoft will be back, and that will help us a great deal.”
Duke will come into the matchup with more experience in playing big games. The Blue Devils have faced several ranked teams throughout the regular season, but Fordham's only ranked opponent before playing Virginia was then-No. 25 Massachusetts in its regular-season finale—Duke was not ranked when the two met in August. But neither team has a player who has ever played in a Sweet 16 game.
The winner of Saturday night’s game will face either No. 3 seed North Carolina or SMU in the Elite Eight.
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