From backs playing wing and wings playing back, to defenders heading scores, to unique sub patterns, Duke clearly came to play this season.
The Blue Devils embraced a new identity Thursday evening, defeating Wake Forest 4-3 in overtime at Spry Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. It rarely looked smooth, but there was too much talent on Duke's side to lose.
“We can do things on the fly,” head coach Robbie Church said. “We can move people on the fly, and do things with the formation. And that’s again an advantage of having a veteran team, is that you can do that. And we just saw a couple things we wanted, especially late—we’re putting more people up high.”
Overtime started calmly, with the ball mainly occupying the midfield. Not a shot was taken for the first five minutes of the extra period and it looked like it might be a few more, even as sophomore midfielder Sophie Jones grounded a pass to junior forward Marykate McGuire, who was perfectly marked up about 35 yards out from goal. But the pass landed perfectly on the right foot of McGuire, who liked it enough to spin around, dribble twice and fire a rocket toward the top right corner of the net.
McGuire may not be the fastest wing on the field, so winning one-on-ones isn’t always her easiest path to scoring. But when she gets a good look, she almost never misses.
Her rocket found netting as she turned around and held a straight face for as long as she possibly could—about seven seconds, or the time it took to get mobbed by her teammates.
“At any moment we have a chance to score,” McGuire said. “I was willing to take the shot and to take the chance of scoring, because at any moment, you never know. And just to get the goal is what matters. Over the last couple of years I’ve been able to train with such an amazing team, it’s really helped me get and develop my game.”
With roughly three minutes remaining in regulation, Duke (1-0) trailed 3-2 and was at risk of being on the receiving end of a concerning season-opening upset.
But the Blue Devils were able to set up a face-up for Jones just outside the box, where she embarrassed a pair of defenders. Meanwhile, McGuire cut behind Jones’ last defender, setting up an easy pass to convert into the game-tying goal.
“[McGuire] just makes me look good,” Jones said. “I get the ball to her, she does the rest. I’m so proud of her— what a great way for her to start the season.”
Initially, the contest looked like it might be an early blowout, as the Blue Devils commanded possession onto Wake Forest's half of the field for most of the early going. That was emphasized in the sixth minute, as a well-placed Karlie Paschall corner and impeccable Caitlin Cosme header sent the ball right into the back of the net, where no Demon Deacon had a chance of stopping it.
Though that’d remain the lone Duke score for quite some time, the team was able to continue putting pressure on Wake Forest's midfield, aided by the movement of Delaney Graham, Mia Gyau and Sydney Simmons all across the pitch.
But such movement and such versatility requires the utmost communication, which is difficult for a team whose players spent six months away from competitive soccer and have had only a few weeks to reacclimate.
So when Demon Deacon midfielder Sofia Rossi’s skillful dribbling beat Lily Nabet and a high-playing Taylor Mitchell, Cosme and Graham were caught flat-footed. Wake Forest's Ryanne Brown slipped between them to receive Rossi’s pass and converted her one-on-one with Duke goalie Brooke Heinsohn to knot the score at one apiece in the 37th minute.
The Blue Devils got a couple more shots off before the half but weren't able to convert before the teams headed to the locker rooms.
Duke came into the second half with cylinders firing, taking the first handful of shots. But communication issues persisted, which came to a head when the Blue Devils disastrously blew defensive assignments twice within a single minute, resulting in two easy goals that gave the Demon Deacons (0-1) a 3-2 lead in the 60th minute.
“We really were not happy at that point early in the match,” Church said. “We’re a veteran team. We should’ve put our stamp on this game earlier than we did…. I thought we were just too casual. We went behind, we were off players, we didn’t close them down, we gave up too much time, we gave up too much space with the ball. Especially defensively, we weren’t aggressive enough.”
The Blue Devils ratcheted up the aggression after that and completely dominated the ball, with Wake Forest only taking one shot the rest of the contest. It was only a matter of time before one of Duke's attacks broke through, though getting into the later minutes made that uncertain.
Not too long later, though, McGuire's first goal would tie up the contest, with her second score sending the Demon Deacons packing.
Looking ahead, Duke will host Virginia next Thursday at 6 p.m. for the team's first official conference matchup. Though the Cavaliers were surprisingly knocked out in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament, they forced double-overtime against North Carolina in the ACC Championship and have proven to be one of the best programs in the country.
“If we make a lot of mistakes against good teams, especially a team in the ACC, they’re going to capitalize on those mistakes,” Church said. “So we have a lot of work to do, believe me, but now Virginia comes to our field on Thursday. We have absolutely a lot of work to do to eliminate those mistakes."
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