RALEIGH, N.C.—As the final seconds on the clock ticked away, Duke refused to take its foot off the gas. But sometimes, you just can’t reach the finish line.
The Blue Devils’ frustrating season continued Saturday night, with the team notching its third double-overtime scoreless tie of the year against N.C. State at Dail Soccer Stadium. However, an even score doesn’t necessarily reflect an evenly matched game. Despite leaving Raleigh without a win, the Blue Devils controlled play for almost the entire night, outshooting the Wolfpack 8-2 and dominating possession in the final third.
“We should have won the game,” head coach John Kerr said.
Anchored by an unflinching back line and smart passing in the middle, Duke (4-9-3, 4-5-1 in the ACC) was able to play the game on its terms, putting almost unrelenting pressure on N.C. State (3-8-3, 1-7-3) for 110 minutes. Senior defender Matthias Frick could be heard yelling "push" all game, and push the Blue Devils did. Even aside from its eight registered shots, Duke got in dangerous offensive positions many more times than the Wolfpack, likely leaving fans and players alike wondering, “What if?"
Frick himself, though, played phenomenally and was practically unbeatable. Often going one-on-one with Wolfpack midfielder George Asomani, who was drafted in the second round of the MLS draft Jan. 21, Frick shut down any glimmer of an opportunity N.C. State had. On one occasion, he even carried the ball from Duke’s box to just outside the opposing box, outmaneuvering and outrunning multiple opposing players to get a shot off in a rare chance to utilize his impressive footwork.
“All back four were really good.... I was very happy with how we defended, and [we got] another shutout which is great,” Kerr said.
The back line, including freshman Antino Lopez, not only carried the defense but did a lot of the leg work in driving the team’s offense. Beyond just holding the line and keeping the ball in the offensive zone, the Duke defenders initiated plays, made quality passes and took back possession as soon as it was lost. Additionally, three of the team's eight shots came from defenders, including the one from Frick and two from junior Ian Murphy.
However, shots don’t win games, goals do, and it’s precisely the finishing woes that have plagued the team all season and led to the tie with N.C. State.
“We need a little more quality in [the final third], because we definitely have the talent,” Kerr said.
What Kerr's referring to is the multiple shots that went wide or over the net. Almost every time, the player that shot the ball grabbed their head in frustration. Additionally, despite each team getting four corner kicks, the Blue Devils often failed to create a shot opportunity out of theirs, a stark contrast to the Wolfpack corners that resulted in the home team's best goal-scoring chances.
Saturday's game didn’t end how Duke had hoped, and with only one game left in the regular season, it’s looking like the season might not either. But that doesn't mean Kerr and the team aren't looking forward to the future. Five freshmen played all 110 minutes Saturday, and 10 of them have seen action this season. As the team keeps moving, the standout play from these freshmen in this game and the entire season is a light on the horizon.
“I'm hoping they continue to grow and get stronger, and we really enjoyed their energy and their commitment and their skill level.... I feel that there's only good things to come for our group," Kerr said.
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