After struggling to finish against George Washington just a week ago, Duke showed a worrying lack of consistency even from its veterans.
And with their toughest challenge of the season looming, the Blue Devils can not afford to make those mistakes.
On Saturday night, No. 15 Duke will face off against top-ranked Wake Forest at the W. Dennie Spry Soccer Stadium in Winston Salem, N.C. at 7 p.m. The Blue Devils are looking to snap out of their recent funk and hand the Demon Deacons their first loss of the year.
“In our first two losses, we noticed that we didn’t keep the ball very well and we were impatient when we went forward. We kind of forced the ball into certain areas when we didn’t need to," head coach John Kerr observed. “We’ve done a much better job since then of moving the ball around and creating numerical advantages in the final third but we’ve missed a lot of opportunities to score and that’s the frustrating thing.”
During the month of August, the Blue Devils racked up a perfect 3-0 record and climbed as high as no. 2 in the country. However, Duke (4-2-1) has struggled in September, limping to a 1-2-1 record that was capped off by a dispiriting double-overtime draw against George Washington.
The Blue Devils have scored just three goals across their last four matches, all of which came in their win against Boston College. In its previous match against George Washington, Duke took 29 shots but couldn’t find the back of the net. Despite the struggles, a win against Wake Forest would change everything, and there’s no doubt that Duke has the talent to pull off the upset. It’s a matter of playing with more discipline and intelligence on both sides of the ball.
“Our Achilles' heel has been our inability to deal with corner kicks and crosses,” Kerr said. “I thought we did a better job of that against George Washington, but we could’ve been better and we are still working on it and progressing.”
Kerr also explained the need to limit the Wake Forest counter-attack. Duke is loaded with offensive talent, but should the offense break down, the Blue Devils will need to quickly transition back to defense and put pressure on the ball. The Blue Devils will not be able to make these errors against a team as talented as Wake Forest.
In fact, Wake Forest (9-0-0) is so talented that it has been on cruise control for practically the entire season. The Deacons lead the country by a wide margin with an average of 3.11 goals per game, while allowing on average fewer than a goal per game. They’ve won seven of their nine matches by multiple goals, including four wins by three or more goals. Last season, the Deacons were the ACC regular season and tournament champions. Unbelievably, they proceeded to add the second best recruiting class in the nation per Top Drawer Soccer, adding even more to a roster bursting at the seams with talent.
But Kerr is optimistic about the match and believes that his squad can pull off the upset, especially following Ian Murphy’s breakout. In his first career start, the freshman Murphy scored two goals to help the Blue Devils top Boston College. For his efforts, Murphy was named the Duke Student-Athlete of the Week. Regardless, the Blue Devils are hungry to prove themselves and, as underdogs on the road, they have nothing to lose.
“We’re not looking past Saturday night,” Kerr said. “It’s a great opportunity for us against the top team in the country, it’s a big RPI game which isn’t lost on us. We want to travel there and give a good account of ourselves”
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