After a disappointing season last year, head coach John Kerr brings in 11 talented freshmen in hopes of generating a rebound. This incoming class draws players from diverse backgrounds, but is ultimately headlined by Peter Stroud, one of the best recruits to actually be playing at the collegiate level this season. Last year, the Blue Devils went 7-9-2 overall, including a measly 2-5-1 in conference play, and were knocked out in the first round of the ACC tournament. But with the amount of incoming talent on their hands, expectations are through the roof.
New player to watch: Peter Stroud
As previously mentioned, there are a lot of skilled freshmen on the team this year, but Stroud is the cream of the crop. The Chester, N.J., native has made a living on U.S. national teams, was part of the New York Red Bulls Academy and most recently played in England for West Ham United’s U23 squad. There is so much excitement surrounding this kid that it will be interesting to see if he will be able to live up to it. Anything near the expectations, though, will surely bring a huge impact to the team.
Returning player to watch: Will Pulisic
Will Pulisic is so much more than the cousin of the best American soccer player in the world. This year will be the senior goalkeeper’s fourth year as a starter, a rare achievement in college soccer, and comes into the season as the No. 4 netminder in the country according to Top Drawer Soccer. The Mechanicsville, Va., native finished third in the ACC in save percentage and totaled six shutouts across his junior tenure. His success is paramount to the team’s success.
Most anticipated matchup: N.C. State, Sept. 26/Oct. 9
The Wolfpack knocked Duke out of the 2019 ACC tournament and made an appearance themselves in the NCAA tournament. For the Blue Devil returners, revenge is all that’s on the mind. Duke will have to play the underdog in both matchups, but the incoming Blue Devils will surely provide an impact on this new rivalry.
In the current play scenario, anything can happen. And although perfection may be near impossible for any team, this year’s Blue Devils may find themselves on the winning side of close games, and that’s all it takes. If Duke can get hot at the right time, a deep playoff run may be in the cards. If everything pans out, who knows how high the ceiling goes?
If Duke’s strongest players have weak moments in the games that matter most, however, everything could be over in an instant. The biggest concern for this year’s squad is the possibility of relying too much on the stars. Facing North Carolina and N.C. State twice each will be challenging, and the pressure of each game could sink the ship.
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Prediction: 5-3 (4-2 in the ACC), loss in ACC tournament semifinals
Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's series of previews for Duke's fall sports, the rest of which can be found here.