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Duke fall sports preview: Men's soccer

Daniele Proch returns to the Blue Devils a year after leading the team in goals.
Daniele Proch returns to the Blue Devils a year after leading the team in goals.

When questioned by experienced teams last season, the Blue Devils could never seem to produce a satisfactory response. As fall fútbol heats up once again, Duke faces another round of queries. Will the banged-up Spanish graduate transfer make a difference? Can the Italian superstar sustain a hot streak? How will the coach's son integrate into the team? Only time will tell, but for now, we take a closer look at what's to come.

Player to look out for: Sergi Nus

Originally from Barcelona, Spain, defender Sergi Nus has American professional dreams. The Spaniard has impressed at every level throughout a winding collegiate career. A year at Division II Fresno Pacific proved not to be challenging enough, leading him to transfer to Virginia. In his first season as a Cavalier, Nus earned a spot on the All-ACC third team, and he moved up to the All-ACC second team the next year.

Then, a devastating ACL tear in his right knee sidelined Nus for the entirety of the 2018 season. Another transfer, this time to Durham, will be his final stop as a college student.

Head coach John Kerr will be thrilled to add the graduate student’s experience to his team. Nus can both anchor the defense and score—three of his six goals in 2017 were game-winners. Look for him on both ends of the field to replace departed defender Ciaran McKenna.

Most anticipated matchup: Sept. 27 at North Carolina

Duke finds meaning in beating its Tobacco Road rival in any arena, but the soccer field seems to hold a certain extra significance. North Carolina knocked the Blue Devils out of the ACC tournament last year, in addition to winning their lone regular season matchup. In fact, Duke hasn’t beaten the Tar Heels since 2014. To make matters worse, Issa Rayyan, the lone Blue Devil to score against the Tar Heels last season, left Duke to play professionally in the United Soccer League.

Rayyan and McKenna are the only major pieces to leave the Blue Devils, and newcomers Sergi Nus, Cameron Duke, who will fit right in in Durham with that name, and Cameron Kerr—yes, the head coach’s son made his exhibition debut Saturday—should add more than enough spark to make the rivalry match one to remember.

Worst case scenario: 

Duke’s attack remains ineffective. While the Blue Devils generated plenty of shots last season, they went long stretches without finding the back of the net. Losses to unranked Georgetown and High Point pockmarked an otherwise impressive 2018 campaign, and the 2019 squad could similarly fall apart at just the wrong time against the wrong teams. Duke languishes near the bottom of the conference, loses in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, and misses a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Best case scenario:

Duke’s combination of experience and incoming talent rockets them to the top of the conference to compete with longtime powers North Carolina and Wake Forest. It’s unlikely that the Blue Devils have the talent and experience to take the ACC or national championship, but if Daniele Proch, who led Duke with 11 goals last season, can replicate his All-American season, the Blue Devils should be able to compete with anyone in the country. 

Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's daily series of previews for Duke's fall sports, the rest of which can be found here.

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