After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, Duke unbelievably fell to Pittsburgh Friday night, a low point of a disappointing 2019 for the team.
In the last road game of the regular season, the Blue Devils had a fairy-tale start with three unanswered goals in the first 40 minutes against the Panthers. But defensive inconsistency in the next 50 minutes sucked Duke into a quagmire once again, as Pittsburgh buried four balls into Duke's goal with the home team winning 4-3 at Ambrose Urbanic Field. The Blue Devils' winless streak increases to five after this game.
Part one: Duke storms out to 3-0 lead
Duke notched its first goal in the 12th minute, with Daniele Proch sending in a long pass from the midfield in search of Stephen O'Connell. A Panther defender got the first touch, but O’Connell didn’t give up on the play and intercepted the back-pass right before Pittsburgh goalkeeper Arie Ammann could get to it. Senior Max Moser appeared on the far end and notched his second goal of the season.
The second score also came from a senior. Suniel Veerakone fired a rocket into the net off a perfect Proch setup.
36 minutes into the game, Daniel Wright added one more coming off the bench off a Aedan Stanley lob from the left flank. The clearing header by the Panther defender landed on Wright’s foot in the box and he finished off the play with poise and finesse.
Part two: Duke falls apart
The first wake-up call for the Blue Devils (6-7-2, 2-4-1 in the ACC) sounded just before the half. The Panthers (8-5-2, 4-2-1) put together an efficient two-man counter attack. Alexander Dexter rushed down the left flank and dished the ball into the box, finding Panther leading scorer Edward Kizza for the socre.
Pittsburgh duplicated the same play coming back from the locker room. This time, freshman Veljko Petkovic notched the score, bringing the Panthers within one.
Seven minutes later, Panther captain Jackson Walti completely beat the Duke defense, with Blue Devil goalkeeper Will Pulisic hesitating to come out from the net, ultimately paying the price as the ball bounced off the ground and found its way to the goal.
In the 86th minute, Pittsburgh's Alexander Dexter put down the dagger himself. The Panthers capitalized on a chaotic moment when Moser went off the sideline for his ankle injury and O’Connell couldn’t get up in time due to a calf cramp. Senior Brandon Kline delivered a cross from the right flank and Dexter bullied through three Duke defenders in the box to seal the deal for Pittsburgh.
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1. A fragile Blue Devil defense: Unlike the midfield or the front line where the most reliable options are seniors, the Blue Devil defense has more younger faces, featuring two of the only sophomores on the starting lineup. If last Friday’s clean sheet against North Carolina State showcased how good the Blue Devil defense could be, the latter 50 minutes of this game revealed the other extreme. The team had trouble dealing with counter attacks. Pulisic also showed signs of inconsistency compared with the first half of the season.
2. Daniele Proch’s drought: Duke’s leading scorer hasn’t notched a goal for three games. While it is a great thing to have multiple players creating threats and finishing plays, the team’s success on the offensive end ultimately depends on Proch’s production. As we saw in this game and previous games such as the Notre Dame one, whenever Proch fades into obscurity, Duke will be in jeopardy.
3. Injuries continue to plague Duke: Moser was as fresh as he’s ever been this whole year during the first half of the game, but a healthy and energetic Moser didn’t even last one game. In the 85th minute after he made a run on the right flank under contact, he stumbled out of the field from the goalline and held onto his ankle in pain. Six minutes before the incident, Ian Murphy went down the pitch after hitting by an aggressive sliding tackle.
Duke will come home for the remaining two games of the regular season, matching up with Denver Tuesday and Virginia Tech Friday night, with the team desperately needing to get right before the ACC and NCAA tournaments.