Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame is still on you. I’m talking to you, United Soccer Coaches Poll.
For the past two years, the poll has ranked Duke men’s soccer as the second-best team in the nation. College coaches from all over the country came to that conclusion after several stunning wins against zero—yes, you read that right—zero ranked teams. And, for the past two years, the Blue Devils have served up a steady diet of disappointment in the latter half of the season.
I had the privilege of attending a match this season and several last season. Each time, I looked at the high ranking on paper and then down at the field. Duke’s performances offered little to justify its No. 2 ranking, leaving me wondering simply what voters had seen in the first place.
Last year, the Blue Devils took the No. 2 overall spot following opening wins against N.C. State, Florida International, Vermont and San Diego, none of whom were ranked in the Week 1 poll. They finished the year ranked 11th in the country and earned the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament but lost 2-0 to 11th-seeded Maryland in round of 16. Not exactly the result of a true contender, is it?
In early September of this year, the Blue Devils were again ranked the second-best team in the nation after beating Furman, Cal State Bakersfield, Princeton and Harvard (an impressive bunch perhaps in a neighboring galaxy). Since then, Duke has gone 2-5-1, losing to three of four ranked teams and winning against just one of four unranked opponents in that stretch. This week, the team didn’t break into the top 25 at all. The acclaimed program received four fewer votes than the likes of Oral Roberts, an evangelical school in the muck of the Summit League.
Of course, there is time yet for the Blue Devils to prove the “haters” wrong. Five games remain for them to redeem their name in the college soccer world and three of them feature ACC opponents. Duke has cause for some celebration—senior forward Daniele Proch has scored 10 goals in 12 games, and junior goalkeeper Will Pulisic has been dynamite in goal, even while his back line has made his life challenging at times.
Unfortunately, the Blue Devils’ pipeline to the pros has backfired, draining head coach John Kerr of manpower needed to succeed in an extremely strong conference. Duke recruited an appropriately named midfielder to play this year—Cameron Duke signed a contract with Sporting Kansas City in July. Issa Rayyan won ACC Rookie of the Year last year and signed a contract with the United Soccer League’s Bethlehem Steel in February.
Thanks to those farewells, the Blue Devils look worse this year than last year and they definitely do not look like the No. 2 team in the country.
Duke has certainly improved mightily since its five-year stretch without an NCAA tournament appearance. Who knows, maybe incorporating wearable technology will Catapult the team into real championship contention. But those are bad reasons to construct a hype train, especially one built on next to nothing, with no obvious purpose.
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