Though one may think a date such as Friday the 13th would favor the eerily-named Blue Devils, fortune was not with Duke Friday evening.
While soccer is a game played in halves, the first 45 minutes of the contest took a decidedly football-esque approach. It was a tale of two quarters: the Blue Devils owning the first, and more even play characterizing the latter. The teams retired at a score of 1-1, but the second frame was all Virginia, the side in white and orange netting two quick goals to put the game away and prove it belongs in national title conversation. No. 2 Duke struck early, but once the sixth-ranked Cavaliers got a hold on the game, they converted on key Blue Devil mistakes, walking out of Koskinen Stadium with a convincing 3-1 win against their previously undefeated foe.
“We were doing all the right things, we just didn’t finish,” lamented Duke head coach John Kerr. “Games are decided on moments, and momentum changes based on those moments.”
In the opening minutes, Virginia put the first shot on net, though it was not long until Duke took command of the pitch—even if only for a short time—the fifth minute seeing the Blue Devils put together a quick counterattack.
That is when all the players on the pitch seemed to vanish—all save for Daniele Proch and Aedan Stanley. Proch touched the ball to his teammate, spinning around a defender as he gathered the return pass, took a long touch and sent a gorgeous cross to the back post, where fans were reminded that soccer is played with more than one attacker. Kristofer Gardarsson seemed to appear in the perfect spot, beating his defender clean and finding the ball in the air, heading it across the goalmouth and finding the left side of the net to give Duke the early advantage, 1-0.
But, alas, this was to be the shining light in an otherwise subpar showing from the Blue Devils.
The game resumed in the second half at a similar, frenzied pace to the close of the first, but this time with the Cavaliers dominating play. Things got chippy, as multiple fouls were called and a yellow card was issued to Joe Bell of Virginia. But the Cavaliers did not let the newfound aggression affect their game plan.
In just the fourth minute back from the break, Brandon Williamson of Duke sent an errant pass right into the Virginia midfield, sparking a quick counterattack. Cavalier forward Nathaniel Crofts, Jr found the back of the cage off an outstanding run, beating Duke goalkeeper Will Pulisic low in a moment that he assuredly would have wanted back.
“They had a good gameplan, they worked hard,” said Kerr regarding the offensive play of Virginia. “They took advantage of their opportunities.”
The Cavaliers (4-0, 1-0 in the ACC) continued this trend, and in rather quick fashion. Though the Blue Devils had the occasional promising attack, the pace of Virginia’s counter-strikes was just too much for the battered back line. In the 71st minute, it was forward Daryl Dike that stole the show, taking cue from Proch’s first half dominance. Getting the ball inside the 18, Dike utilized his large frame masterfully, holding off multiple Duke defenders and spinning off multiple would-be tackles.
Through the dizziness he was undoubtedly suffering from at this point, he found a wide-open Spencer Patton in front, Patton passing the ball across the goal line to extend the Cavalier advantage to 3-1.
Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC) controlled play for the fifteen minutes after Gardarsson’s early goal, taking advantage of Virginia’s stay-at-home defensive tendencies to go at the team with pace, again and again. An errant Cavalier header sled to a Duke shot pushed to the side by Virginia goalkeeper Colin Shutler, and the ensuing corner almost saw the Blue Devils take an intimidating 2-0 advantage. A nifty pass by Proch heard a gasp from the crowd as Duke just could not convert, a great chance in front ending in a shot easily swallowed up by the keeper.
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After netting its third goal, Virginia put the game on cruise control, seeing out the final 20 minutes with the only action being a little feistiness from both sides, borne from a game with a decided outcome. Emotions ran high, but did not boil over the top, both sides accepting their lot and knowing that this is just the beginning of a long season. Yellow cards were sprinkled here and there, but the fire had left the game, taking with it the strength of the Blue Devils. The contest ended with the defeated Duke team fighting until the end, pushing an attack or two, but nothing truly threatening enough for the Cavaliers to do anything but coast.
“It is what it is, and we’re going to have to get a little tougher,” Kerr said.
And the Blue Devils must in a quick manner if they wish to hold onto their high ranking in the polls, with games coming up next week against SMU and Clemson.