After what felt like an eternity, Duke men’s soccer finally returned to the pitch Monday night.
In their first regular-season match in 320 days, the Blue Devils managed to put up a high-intensity fight but ultimately fell short, losing 4-2 to Kentucky at Wendell & Vickie Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Ky.
Head Coach John Kerr rolled out five of the team’s new freshmen in a revamped starting lineup, leading to high-energy play to start the season. The hungry newcomers brought their A-game and kept the pressure going throughout the match.
Early on, Duke (0-1) seemed to be controlling the game, getting scoring chances on multiple free kicks and a shot off a corner kick by freshman defender Lewis McGarvey that just missed the right post. Merely moments after, an excellent through ball put graduate student Jack Doran one-on-one with the keeper. The goalie took him out at the legs, grabbed a yellow card and set the Blue Devils up with a penalty shot. Doran blasted home Duke's first goal of the season, putting the Blue Devils ahead 1-0 in the 17th minute.
It didn’t take long for the Wildcats (1-1) to create momentum of their own, though, and right away they were bringing the pressure. A few free kicks were neutralized by great Duke defensive plays, but eventually, a Kentucky corner kick was headed home by redshirt senior defender Aimé Mabika to tie up the game in the 24th minute.
A bang-bang play just eight minutes later put the ball on Duke forward Daniel Wright’s foot just outside the 18-yard box. The senior looked calm and cool tucking the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to give the Blue Devils back the lead. But another eight minutes after, in the 40th minute, Wildcat midfielder Kalil ElMedkar made a dashing cut to the top of Duke’s box and rocketed a ball into the upper-right corner to tie the game once again.
The second half started out just as intense. Duke created scoring chances by attacking the pressing Kentucky defense with long balls, but it was the Wildcats who ended up taking control through most of the half.
As the minutes wore on, the physical play began to elevate, with both teams racking up fouls that resulted in free kicks. However, it was the Blue Devils who caused the majority of the whistles, amassing three yellow cards compared to Kentucky’s one.
Eventually, all the corner kicks the Blue Devils were surrendering came back to bite them, and Wildcat midfielder Bailey Rouse knocked in the team’s second header to take a 3-2 lead. That proved to be the turning point for Duke, which nearly put in an own goal on a wide pass just moments after. In the 85th minute, Kentucky forward Daniel Evans provided the finishing touches with the insurance goal to put the Wildcats up 4-2.
The Blue Devils scratched, clawed and pushed to try and get themselves back in the game. But in the end, they couldn’t muster another scoring attempt, finishing with zero shots the entire second period.
Next, Duke returns home to face off against N.C. State Saturday at 7 p.m. in the team’s first conference match of the season.
Kerr could not be reached for comment following the contest.
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