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Duke men's soccer overwhelms Syracuse in crucial ACC matchup

<p>It was all smiles for Duke Friday.</p>

It was all smiles for Duke Friday.

The warmth Syracuse desperately searched for was not in Durham Friday.

In a 4-0 bloodbath—the largest margin of victory for Duke in an ACC game since 2015—Duke earned a crucial victory to climb to third place in the ACC Coastal Division standings, while Syracuse remained one of  three winless teams in the conference. Senior forward Daniele Proch took center stage, finishing the night with his eighth goal and third assist of the season.

The Blue Devils executed a perfect set piece to pull ahead in the 32nd minute. Midfielder Brandon Williamson swung the ball deep into the box, where Proch was on the receiving end. Without any delay, Proch serviced the ball to the unguarded Ian Murphy at the far post. The sophomore defender handled the pressure with ease and tallied his first goal of the season. This was Murphy's first game back since his injury against Clemson.

“I’m constantly asking our outsiders, midfielders to get into goal-scoring positions in the back post, and obviously that paid off for us tonight,” Blue Devil head coach John Kerr said. “Ian was in the right place at the right time. He finished off the play. It was nice to see after him being away for two games.”

In the first minute back from the break, center back Matthias Frick bullied through the Syracuse midfield before delivering a scalpel cut that sliced open the last line of Orange defense, giving Proch a one-on-one opportunity with Syracuse goalie Christian Miesch. Proch dribbled past Miesch and then buried the ball in the back of the net, making it a comfortable 2-0 lead for Duke.

“[Daniele] looks sharp," Kerr said. "He was fresh and up for it. That great pass from Matthias Frick into his path, that second goal really helped with our team’s confidence and helped with his confidence. Daniele is great in these situations because he’s a natural scorer. He calmly beat the goalkeeper and passed it into the goal with aplomb.”

Duke (6-3-1, 2-2-0 in the ACC ) ran away with the game after Proch’s early second-half goal, but it could have been a very different game if the Orange were more efficient with their possessions in the first half. 

In the first four minutes of the game, Syracuse forward Massimo Ferrin and midfielder Hilli Goldhar totaled three shots on goal from the left side of the box. All three attempts came within 10 yards of the goal, but Blue Devil goalkeeper Will Pulisic saved each and every one of them. 

Two minutes before Murphy’s opening goal, Syracuse midfielder Ryan Raposo initiated a quick counter-attack. His forceful shot from outside the box was denied by the left post. In the entire first half, Syracuse outshot Duke with 10 attempts and also had six corners, while the Blue Devils held onto a clean sheet by committing eight fouls and receiving two yellow cards.

The Orange (3-3-4, 0-2-2) became the aggressor defensively in the second half as frustration kicked in. Many players seized the remaining minutes to practice MMA instead of concentrating on their footwork. The referee didn’t hesitate to award four different Syracuse players yellow cards for their fierce pushes, jersey-pullings and sliding tackles.

Despite Syracuse’s efforts to stop Duke by any means necessary, two more Blue Devils added their names to the scoring column of the stat sheet.  

Coming off the bench, defender Stephen O’Connell made a determined push on the left wing with 19 minutes left on the clock. He crossed the ball into the box, where Scotty Taylor faked a shot without touching the ball, throwing two Orange defenders off-balance, before Max Moser converted from the far end for his first goal of the season. 

In the final minute of the game, senior striker Colby Agu took possession of the ball off an Orange miscue. With his long strides, he drove past two dispirited Syracuse backliners and slotted the shot into the lower right corner of the goal to seal the deal for the Blue Devils.

The game ended on a high note, and Duke looks to carry on the momentum next Friday against Notre Dame in Indiana. There are four conference games remaining, and the Blue Devils need to be consistent with their performance to secure a better spot in the postseason.

“We have to keep going. We come off two wins and one draw in the last three, so we need to keep the momentum going,” Proch said. “We have to get at least another win on the road, and this is it. It has to be next week because we cannot wait for it.”

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