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Duke men’s soccer rescued by pair of miracles in season opener

<p>Hassan Pinto flashed some love for his hometown after scoring his first career goal Friday.</p>

Hassan Pinto flashed some love for his hometown after scoring his first career goal Friday.

Pigs flew and Satan went ice skating Friday night. 

After 4,403 minutes of college soccer, recent Blue Devil transfer Hassan Pinto finally notched the first goal of his college career in the first half of his first game with his hometown team. Meanwhile, Furman’s senior midfielder Rocky Guerra missed all 192 square feet of a college goal from less than two feet away in No. 10 Duke’s 1-0 auspicious season-opening victory against the Paladins at Koskinen Stadium.

Pinto’s long-awaited left-footed poke and Guerra’s irredeemable brain cramp in front of an empty net tested the realm of possibility. Even Blue Devil head coach John Kerr, now in his 12th year at the helm of Duke’s program, found himself equally shocked at both events. When told that Pinto’s goal was his first at the collegiate level, Kerr didn’t know how to respond.

“That’s his first career goal?” exclaimed Kerr, shaking his head in disbelief. “Wow…. What a debut, huh?”

Miracle No. 2—which was preceded by another rocket off the left post—deserved no less recognition. Kerr was asked if Guerra’s inexplicable error could be attributed to a higher being.

“Yes,” he replied. “We were very fortunate. We’ve had those kinds of things happen to us. It’s nice to be on the right side of that.”

Pinto, a senior defender and Durham native, had played his first three years of college soccer as the starting right back at Elon. He had only been back home for two weeks when he took the field Friday. In fact, he had only on the field for two minutes when his big chance suddenly appeared.

Defender Aedan Stanley whipped in a curling low cross from the left side in the 35th minute. Closest to the ball was midfielder Conor Kelly. Feeling the heat of a defender on his back, he flopped forward like a fish to backheel the ball to a streaking Pinto. A subtle glancing strike from the senior found the side netting and gave Duke (1-0) the early edge.

He celebrated the goal with an enthusiastic demonstration of the Bull City hand gesture, bumping his fists repeatedly to make up for his otherwise empty offensive soccer resume.

“It means everything to me,” Pinto said. “To get my first win in front of Bull City—my celebration sums it up. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Guerra’s fantastic blunder was only made possible because of inflamed Blue Devil forward Daniel Wright’s heated exchange with a Furman player he had just slammed to the ground—never a good idea when an incident takes place within 10 yards of the box. The yellow card allowed the Paladins’ Cole McLagan to fire a free kick on target, but diving Duke goalkeeper Will Pulisic deflected the ball off the left goalpost, causing it to land squarely at the feet of Rocky Guerra.

Unimpeded by any pesky Duke defenders or the earthbound Pulisic, Guerra took a brief moment to take in the feng shui of the empty net before launching the ball nearly straight up. It bounced harmlessly off the crossbar and fell flat near the edge of the box, carrying the rest of Furman’s hopes with it.

The rest of the match consisted of desperate attacking maneuvers by the Paladins (0-1), who were mostly well dealt with by the Blue Devil defense. This was interspersed with gratuitously rough play. The referee was for the most part content to let both teams play early in the game, calling just two fouls in the first 15 minutes. Each side consequently escalated their physicality level until it bordered on another sport, at which point the referee intervened.

The Blue Devils return to Koskinen Stadium to take on Cal State Bakersfield Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with their odd match against the Paladins still very much on the brain. Whether Friday’s victory was a display of superior skill or an act of divine intervention, Duke will gladly take the win. But Kerr and his squad had better remember that godly benevolence can only extend so far to a team named after its greatest rival.

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