The second-ranked Blue Devils looked to remain undefeated in their ACC opener, however host Louisville had other ideas in mind.

Duke suffered its first loss of the season Sunday afternoon, falling to No. 7 Louisville 3-0 on the road. Both teams battled through the rain, and despite an ugly first half from the Blue Devils the match remained close for most of the afternoon. However, the Cardinals eventually broke through the Duke defense, scoring three second half goals and walking away with the victory.

“They’re a strong team and were bouncing back from a tough 3-0 loss at Kentucky so they were really up for the game,” head coach John Kerr said. “We were up for it too, but we weren’t as active as we need to be if we’re playing an ACC game away from home against a good team.” 

The Duke offense struggled enormously in the first half as it failed to get into a rhythm or put pressure on the Cardinal defense. The Blue Devils (3-1-0, 0-1-0 in the ACC) could only create one shot in the first 45 minutes, a strike from junior Max Moser that was easily secured by Louisville goalie Jake Gelnovatch.

Although Louisville (3-1-0. 1-0-0) controlled the first half, the Duke defense held firm, thwarting the most dangerous opportunities and only allowing one shot on goal. Center back Aedan Stanley was particularly impressive as the freshman blocked a pair of point-blank shots to keep the game scoreless going into halftime. 

“In the first half we certainly lacked energy and we weren’t at our best, even though it was 0-0,” Kerr said. “We came out more energetic in the second half and played better at times offensively, but didn’t take advantage of some of our good opportunities. There were a couple of missteps defensively that cost us and they took advantage to score the three goals.”

The first of those missteps came in the 53rd minute when the Blue Devils surrendered possession in their own territory. Cardinal midfielder Adam Wilson proceeded to capitalize on the error as he broke through the Duke defense and fired a shot past goalkeeper Will Pulisic. 

Down 1-0, the Blue Devils finally felt the pressure and kicked up their intensity. An offensive surge led to multiple scoring opportunities deep in Louisville territory—Kevin Feucht’s header just cleared the bar, Issa Rayyan’s cross just missed Max Moser on the back post and Torbjorn Alseth’s strike in the 60th minute was merely inches away from finding the back of the net. Duke also earned multiple corners and free kicks but the ball didn’t bounce its way. 

“We were pushing and probing and getting into good situations, but sometimes the delivery wasn’t good, or the run wasn’t on, or the finish wasn’t right,” Kerr said. “We had a couple opportunities around the goal on free kicks that were struck well but we didn’t put on target. And on another day if we get them on target and score even one goal, that would’ve given us even more momentum. It just wasn’t our day today.”

To the Cardinals’ credit, their defense held firm against the Duke onslaught and they managed to maintain their slim lead. In the 78th minute, Duke’s defense had another mental lapse and Louisville added an insurance goal when Ziyad Fekri headed in a corner from his position near the back post. 

“The second goal was disappointing for me because it was a set play and we were in good positions but we couldn’t deal with the cross and they scored,” Kerr said. “After that goal, we put our heads down a little bit.” 

Just four minutes later, Elijah Amo finished off a one-on-one opportunity to extend the lead to 3-0 and put the game away for good. 

“We have to be a little bit tougher, we’re going to make mistakes but we have to bounce back quickly,” Kerr said. “We did a little bit today after their first goal, and we were right in the game from kickoff but we were unlucky and couldn’t get the equalizer.”

By the end of the match, Louisville had a 14-7 advantage in shots. Pulisic finished with three saves while Gelnovatch had just the one. 

The matchup against Louisville marked the first of three straight against ranked opponents for the Blue Devils. Duke returns home to face rival North Carolina on Friday with kickoff slated for 5 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium.