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'Has to change': Duke men's soccer continues to struggle converting opportunities in loss to Notre Dame

Freshman Thorleifur Ulfarsson helped put pressure on Notre Dame's defense, but once again the Blue Devils just weren't able to convert.
Freshman Thorleifur Ulfarsson helped put pressure on Notre Dame's defense, but once again the Blue Devils just weren't able to convert.

Coming off a huge 4-2 victory at Virginia Tech last weekend, Duke couldn’t keep up the momentum at home in Koskinen Stadium, losing 2-0 to Notre Dame this past Friday. Once again, the Blue Devils succeeded in maintaining possession, but their forwards and midfielders were unable to capitalize with goals. 

Duke established possession and handled Notre Dame’s size well from the start, gaining possession and putting some pressure on the Fighting Irish within the game’s first few minutes. Forwards Thorleifur “Thor” Ulfarsson and Nicolas Macri had early opportunities, as the Blue Devils did an exceptional job getting the ball into the final third while displaying an impressive level of communication as they moved the ball up the field. 

“We started off really well, and we put severe pressure on Notre Dame…. The passing into the final third was excellent,” head coach John Kerr said. “Our build-up play is good because we’re very safe and organized.”

Duke (3-8-2, 3-4-0 in the ACC) did not score on any of these initial opportunities, but it was still early in the game, and the Blue Devils looked confident and aggressive. But soon, Notre Dame (7-5, 4-3) awoke from its early slumber. 

The Fighting Irish lost the possession battle throughout Friday’s game, but made up for this by capitalizing on the limited opportunities they did have. Just over six minutes into the match, senior midfielder Aiden McFadden scored the game’s first goal, and 26 minutes later, junior forward Jack Lynn scored on a penalty kick, putting Notre Dame up 2-0 at the half. 

“In their first opportunity, they actually scored it,” Kerr said of Notre Dame. “They didn't really create too many opportunities. They were smart. They benefited from a fortuitous goal in the first half and then a penalty kick, and they worked their socks off in the second half and I give them credit for that.”

Winning possession but trailing on the scoreboard is hard for a team to swallow, but Duke’s players remained committed to the attack throughout the night. Adding to the successful ball movement already generated, freshman midfielder Nick Pariano came in off the bench and gave the Blue Devils a burst of energy.

“He’s gotten himself in really good positions,” Kerr said regarding Pariano, “and we need him, Scotty Taylor, Thor and Peter Stroud to step up and be the go-to guys and not be afraid to take chances.”

Duke continued to get the ball into dangerous situations for the Fighting Irish, but failed to break the barrier. One statistic represents this particularly well—the Blue Devils totaled six shots but none on goal, while five of Notre Dame’s eight shots were on goal. 

“We got in great positions, and we were a little gun-shy. We got into the box a couple times with some good looks and we didn't shoot or we tried to make that extra pass, which did not come off and we weren't able to break the deadlock,” Kerr said. “At the end of the day, it's all about scoring goals, and we need to do a better job."

Finishing opportunities has been an area of trouble for Duke all season, and Kerr knows it. The Blue Devils will look to improve in that department this Friday against No. 8 Pittsburgh.

“Strikers are judged on their goal production, and apart from the Virginia Tech game, we've been struggling,” Kerr said. “And that has to change.”

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