Duke had been bailed out by a higher power twice last Friday night with senior Hassan Pinto notching his first ever collegiate goal and then Furman conspiring to miss a wide-open game-tying goal late in the game.
It looked like their luck had run out against Cal State Bakersfield as, after a goal in the third minute put the Blue Devils ahead, a deflected pass ran straight to Cal State Bakersfield midfielder Niklas Korber in a clear offside position. The linesman’s flag stayed down however, and Korber coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net to tie the game. That coupled with two goals disallowed for offside had Duke fans frustrated for much of the afternoon as the Blue Devils struggled to find a winning goal.
However, the Roadrunners’ resistance finally broke in the 75th minute after senior Daniele Proch buried a penalty kick to give No. 10 Duke a 2-1 victory and bring home the John Rennie Nike Invitational championship for the fourth consecutive year Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium.
“We had a lot of possession and we need to improve our movement, our ideas and our execution,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “When we did get in good spots, I thought the movement to get there was excellent, but the last ball, the last finish was off.”
The game started out perfectly for Duke (2-0). Just three minutes in, senior Max Moser swung in a cross from the right side that senior Colby Agu headed into the back of the net.
The controversy began just 10 minutes in after a through ball deflected off a Duke player directly to Korber, who was at least five yards offside. Everyone froze for a second, expecting a flag for offside to go up, but none came leaving Korber one-on-one with junior goalie Will Pulisic and the striker made no mistake.
The linesmen were the Blue Devils’ worst enemy in the first half as Duke had two goals off free kicks ruled offside in a half that it otherwise dominated in terms of possession. Kerr shook things up at half time, taking off a defender to go three at the back and throwing on another attacker in search of the go-ahead goal.
“I found it pretty easy to adjust,” Pinto said. “I played right back the first three years at Elon and then played right center back the first two games of preseason.”
Pinto was a standout performer throughout the tournament and was named tournament MVP thanks in large part to his winning goal on Friday. The transfer from Elon consistently drove forward down the wing in the second half, swinging in dangerous crosses.
““I think this is the first individual award I’ve gotten since middle school,” said Pinto of his tournament MVP award. “It’s awesome. I’m going to hang it up in my room.”
The winning goal finally came deep into the second half as, after a slick one-two passing combination broke open the Roadrunner defense, sophomore Aeden Stanley was hauled down in the box, forcing a penalty kick. Proch stepped up and after a stuttering run up, blasted the ball into the right corner, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.
The Blue Devils were then able to see out the match from there without much difficulty as Cal State Bakersfield (0-2) offered little threat to the Duke defense outside of the lone goal. The Roadrunners were outshot 12-4 on the day and were unable to muster any last gasps of hope after the penalty kick sunk their chances.
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The victory means that the Blue Devils start the season out on the right foot after some inconsistent preseason performances. They will look to continue fine-tuning the offense next weekend where they will face off against both Harvard and Princeton before starting ACC play.