Kicking off the season with four victories in a row—their best record to open a season since 2016—the Blue Devils are slated to begin ACC play at home in a top-10 showdown.
No. 2 Duke will have its toughest test so far against No. 6 Virginia Friday at 6 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium. After capturing the fourth consecutive John Rennie Invitational title in the opening week of the season, the Blue Devils overwhelmed both Princeton and Harvard last week, netting seven goals while giving up nothing on the defensive end. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers showcased their smothering defense in three straight clean sheets, including a 2-0 win against the defending national champion Maryland, allowing only five shots throughout the bout.
“It was four good wins and a win is never easy at the Division I level,” Duke head coach John Kerr commented on the season-opening performances. “[It’s a] good opportunity for us on Friday night, opening our ACC schedule with Virginia.… They haven’t given a goal away yet and we’ve given up one. So it should be a tough game for both sides.”
Interestingly, the leader of the Blue Devil backline, Sergi Nus, was a Cavalier in his past three seasons. He transferred to Duke as a graduate to finish his final year of NCAA eligibility.
“My time over there was really special. I can say without any doubt that I have a family there, I have friendships that will last forever,” Nus said. “ But right now I have a chance to be in a very good place…... Although I remember my time there and I will never forget what they gave me the amazing opportunity that was to be a part of UVA, right now I feel 100 percent Blue Devil. I love Duke and I am very happy to be here.”
Duke’s offense, led by the senior duo Daniele Proch and Max Moser, has been productive up to this point. Proch was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Week last Monday for his pair of goals in both games last week and is now fourth in total goals nation-wide.
Moser has been the most reliable offensive weapon for the Blue Devils in the early season. Though he only played 14 minutes due to lingering injuries, Moser delivered two assists in his limited presence, sparking Duke’s offense into life in the second half against Harvard. He will be coming off the bench again this Friday.
Despite stable outputs from the senior duo, Duke (4-0) has often squandered opportunities in the box. In the first half against the Crimson last Sunday, the Blue Devils bombarded their opponents with 13 shots, but none of them came to fruition. Their offensive inefficiencies may be costly against the mighty Cavaliers (3-0) who will not allow as many shots.
The pillar of the Cavalier defense is redshirt junior goalie Colin Shutler, who was recently named ACC Defensive Player of the Week. Last year he finished the season with eight shutouts, the second-most in the ACC. In the 270 minutes Virginia played this season, nobody has managed to conquer the goalkeeper and his defensive line.
It will be interesting to see if Duke’s senior duo can draw first blood against Virginia. During Duke's matchup against Virginia last season, Proch outmatched Shutler with a penalty kick and Moser serviced a Matthias Frick header to seal a 2-0 victory in Charlottesville for the Blue Devils.
“We feel that they are solid. They’ve got some good players,” Kerr noted about Virginia's defense. “But hopefully we can keep them under pressure, and force them to make mistakes and capitalize on that.... We will be cautious, be aggressive and positive towards their goal.”
The Blue Devil backline has been solid as well. Duke’s experienced line of defense has conceded only one goal so far this season. Virginia will try to attack early, as 60 percent of its goals came in the first 25 minutes. The rapid-fire Cavalier offense will pose a serious challenge for Duke.
For many of the core pieces of the Blue Devil squad such as Nus and Proch, this is their last year of college soccer. Duke reached the final of the ACC tournament and made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament last year, but came away from both outings disappointed in the results.
“Certainly we feel that we were falling short of our goals the past two seasons," Kerr said. "Overall we played well, overall we had good seasons but I think we have a little chip on our shoulder that we want to do better than we did last year, and we want to bring some trophies back to Duke. It’s been a while since we’ve won a major trophy, so that’s certainly on our radar."
After Friday’s battle, Duke will take on SMU Monday at 7 p.m in Durham before going on the road for more ACC action.
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