Though an up-and-down exhibition slate showcased some flashes of dominance, ultimately, last season’s struggles in front of goal reared their head again in the three preseason games.
But with the exhibit competition being erased as Duke's official ledger stands at 0-0, the Blue Devils will look to put those troubles in the past as the regular season begins.
Duke will start the season at home with the John Rennie Nike Invitational this weekend. The 10th-ranked Blue Devils will play Furman at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Koskinen Stadium before facing Cal State Bakersfield at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Koskinen as well. Duke looks to build on last year’s run to the ACC semifinals and third round of the NCAA tournament.
“Preseason is an opportunity to get a sense of who is working well together and get guys some time,” Blue Devil head coach John Kerr said. “I’m happy with the way preseason went and I think we’re where we need to be going into the regular season.”
Duke welcomed several new players to the squad this season who will be counted on as key contributors, including two graduate transfer defenders in Sergi Nus and Hassan Pinto. Nus comes to Durham from Virginia, where he was twice an All-ACC performer before missing last season due to injury. Pinto transferred from Elon after serving as a key member of the Phoenix’s squad.
“Hassan [Pinto] has been a great addition to our squad,” Kerr said. “He’s adapted well to the position we want him to play and has been fitting in well with the players. Sergi has been here all spring and he’s been doing great in a central position, so we have a lot of experience back there.”
The Blue Devils will have an experienced backline with Pinto and Nus, as well as returning defenders Matthias Frick, Ian Murphy and Aedan Stanley. The group will combine to anchor the defense in front of All-ACC goalie Will Pulisic.
Duke’s defense may be tested by Furman’s attack, which returns leading scorer Emery May. Furman returns seven starters from last year’s Paladin team that earned a Southern Conference tournament title and an NCAA tournament bid last season.
The Blue Devils’ strike force is led by Daniele Proch, who was selected to the Hermann Trophy Watch List, the top individual award in collegiate soccer, after scoring 11 goals and tallying four assists last season in a second-team All-American performance. The senior ended the preseason with a bang, scoring two goals in a half against Coastal Carolina in Duke’s final exhibition game.
Preseason was not the smoothest for Duke generally, as it struggled through its first two exhibition matches, drawing 2-2 with South Carolina before losing 2-1 to UNC-Wilmington, surrendering the winning goal in the 88th minute after tying the game just 10 seconds before.
The outlook is optimistic for the Blue Devils this season, though, as they boast an experienced roster that lost just two major pieces from last season’s team with the graduation of Ciaran McKenna and ACC Rookie of the Year Issa Rayyan leaving to pursue playing professionally.
“We have a really experienced team,” Kerr said. “You look at our team—we have a lot of players that have played a lot of games together over the course of two or three years. If we can stay healthy, we’ll be in really good shape.”
Duke always begins its season with the John Rennie Nike Invitational, named after the coach who guided the Blue Devils to the program’s lone national championship. The invitational means something special to Kerr, who was the star player of that 1986 team, as well as Hermann Trophy winner that year.
“It’s the first opportunity of the season to win a tournament or a trophy,” Kerr said. “We always relish the opportunity to play in this tournament with my former coach who established the program to where it is today.”
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