Duke notched a win, and it played better than the score indicates—stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Under their first Friday Night Lights of the season, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils took down Virginia Tech 2-0 at Koskinen Stadium. Duke started the match in control and maintained it for no less than 80 minutes, finishing the victory by kicking the ball around the Hokie third. Six fruitless first-half shots and several missed opportunities for the Blue Devils led to a halftime tie, but a second half in which they outshot Virginia Tech 16-1 (10-0 on goal) was simply too much for even sheer bad luck to negate.
Duke has played excellently since its Sep. 20 tie against Wake Forest, and Friday’s win was no exception. Outshooting the Hokies 22-2 is one of the most brutal beatdowns in the ACC this year, and that doesn’t even convey the fact that Virginia Tech only had about three real possessions in the Duke third at all. The only thing keeping the visiting team afloat for 90 minutes was the continued breakout of true freshman goalie Alia Skinner.
“[Skinner is] very good, they’ve got a good one there,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “But tonight, I really thought, was one of our top one or two overall games…. [Goals] are going to come. They’re going to come big-time soon.”
Virginia Tech (1-6) has played like one of the worst teams in the conference so far. But this kind of dominance is still rare.
Duke's talent level was clear from the start. The first 27 minutes were mostly led by junior Sydney Simmons, redshirt senior Mia Gyau, seniors Taylor Mitchell and Caitlin Cosme and sophomore Sophie Jones, the latter of whom the announcers spent the entire broadcast declaring a “top 10 player nationally.”
Mitchell and Cosme continued to lock down an entire third with only the help of now-fullback Emily Royson, and looked completely unbothered by any Hokie drives. Gyau was very good at providing the transition along the left side while shutting down multiple one-on-one matchups by herself. Simmons was just as excellent in the rare times she had to play defense and provided a seamless connection atop the attacking front. And there were several passes off the foot of Jones that were simply unbelievable—it almost seemed like she came into the match with money on how many no-look passes she could connect.
The Blue Devils (3-1-2) spent the first half scoreless, however, because none of those players are finishers.
But Duke has one of best defenses in the ACC. That defense is going to keep the Blue Devils in every game they play, and their comfort in playing defensively is often going to create box scores that suggest they played a lot worse than they did.
“[Assistant coach Carla Overbeck] has taught us how to move together, work together, play together. And it’s helped us a lot. It’s helped us all build chemistry,” Cosme said. “We all read each other really, really well. And I think that helps us a lot.”
The Blue Devils are certainly younger on the offensive end, but young doesn't mean lacking of talent.
Breakout freshman Olivia Migli started at winger Friday and held up as a smart, athletic player on several drives, including one in the 65th minute that drew a foul for a penalty kick, which Cosme turned into a 1-0 lead. Fellow freshman Grace Watkins needs to develop her soccer IQ and core strength, but this is the fourth game in a row where she’s had the best pure face-up game of anyone on the field.
Junior Mackenzie Pluck came off the bench for the first time in 14 months but completely took over the game for a 20-minute stretch toward the end of the match. Sophomore Emmy Duerr played only 18 minutes but was a force atop the box, including a near-perfect shot that required an all-time save effort to stop, a save which set up Duke’s second goal.
“[Our young forwards] would all love to be on the field all the time, there’s no question about that…but they understand ‘team first,’” Church said. “And so they understand they have a job. When a player’s performance starts to dip, that’s when we try to make subs. And the ones that come off the bench also understand that their job is not to keep the game even—their job is to elevate the game. And so they take pride in that.”
Graham and Watkins are probably the best bets among that group to develop into elite 11s, at which point Duke has a fair argument as being one of the three or four best teams in the country. Until that time, though, the Blue Devils have the stars to match anyone this side of the San Francisco Bay, and are starting to prove that they can generate the supporting production to match.
Duke now begins a five-game road trip to close out the regular season, starting with a match at Boston College Thursday at 4 p.m.
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