A five-minute collapse of Duke's defense forced by SMU striker Garrett McLaughlin was all the underdog Mustangs needed Monday night.
18 minutes into the first half, SMU launched an unexpected overhead pass from the mid-field that pierced through the entire Blue Devil defense. Duke goalkeeper Will Pulisic made a risky run that exposed the goal to McLaughlin, but luckily for the Blue Devils, the Mustang fell after a collision with Duke defender Hassan Pinto. The referee made no call.
Just 120 seconds later, the Mustangs broke Duke’s defense once again. McLaughlin connected on a header from outside the box and this time the referee called a penalty without hesitation. McLaughlin took it himself from 12 yards out, but his flat shot to the right was not enough to get past Pulisic.
Before anyone could take a breather and before the cheering for Pulisic subsided, a Knut Ahlander through ball found McLaughlin inside the 18-yard box for the third time. The senior calmly examined the position of Pulisic, then flicked a crowd-silencer right through Pulisic’s legs, making it 1-0 for SMU.
The Mustangs would not surrender their lead for the rest of the evening, as then-No. 22 SMU upset then-No. 2 Duke at Koskinen Stadium.
“Our first-half performance was lackluster,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “I give credit to SMU. They came in with a game plan and they really took it to us in the first half. We were second-best to the ball, second-best to everything. Our passes were awful and they took advantage of it.”
Despite conceding two goals, Pulisic was still the standout in a game in which all the other Blue Devils seemed to fade into the background. Pulisic had a total of eight saves, matching his career best. In the second half, he dove to save a Mustang curl that went for the top left corner of the net. He also stopped a shot from the wing that could have made the night even more disappointing for Duke.
“I was just going to trust my training,” said Pulisic. “Obviously McLaughlin is a great player, but I’m just trying to do my job back there and help my team out. They are going to call me to make big saves and that’s what I am here to do.”
SMU (6-0) finished the first half with five shots, four of which were on goal. In contrast, Duke (4-2) looked as though the ghosts of Virginia were still haunting the team, as it went back to the locker room with three shots, none of them on goal.
The Blue Devils came into the second period with a more aggressive approach, searching for an equalizer. Just five minutes into the half, senior Max Moser sent in a beautiful cross from the right wing that found fellow senior Daniele Proch in the middle. Proch then headed the ball to freshman forward Scotty Taylor, who failed to put it into the net. A few minutes later, Moser swung in another cross that met Taylor’s head in the air, but the header went sideways. Duke squandered its best opportunity in the 65th minute as Taylor fired a rocket off the bar from the 12-yard line.
After withstanding several punches from the Blue Devils, SMU regained its foothold with a counter-attack goal. Following an interception on the backline, the Mustangs quickly pushed the ball ahead to find McLaughlin in an open area on the right wing. He drove all the way into the box before dishing the ball to Ahlander, returning the favor from the first half. Ahlander’s sweeping shot went past Pulisic and found the left corner of the goal.
“I feel bummed for the boys that they didn’t get that feeling of scoring a goal, which automatically uplifts you,” said Kerr. “It’s a shame to give away that second goal and put them back in the driver’s seat.”
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For the remainder of the game, a desperate Duke team struggled to convert valuable opportunities. Whether it was junior Matthias Frick’s fierce penetrations or Proch’s quick movements in the final third, the Mustang defense proved to be impenetrable all around.
Duke ended its six-game homestay with its second straight loss, while SMU walked out of Koskinen still undefeated. The Blue Devils will hope to bounce back against Clemson on the road this Friday at 7 p.m. to prevent a three-game losing streak.