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Duke fall sports season preview: men's soccer

Peter Stroud is returning for his sophomore season after starting all 17 games last year.
Peter Stroud is returning for his sophomore season after starting all 17 games last year.

Overview

After a round of preseason exhibitions consisting of two wins, a loss and a draw, the Blue Devils will host their season opener this Friday against Liberty in Koskinen stadium.

Last year’s team was a curious one. The squad lost games it looked like it should have won and struggled to finish even on great plays, failing to register a goal in eight of its 17 games last season. The Blue Devils’ exhibition games earlier this month were encouraging in that respect, as they scored eight goals across four games and at least one in each. The addition of Thorleifur Ulfarsson last spring helped boost scoring and freshman midfielder Ruben Mesalles looked very promising in preseason. The team also returns star sophomore Peter Stroud, who can be expected to be the team’s mitochondria, generating energy just like last year, as well as sophomore defender Lewis McGarvey, who will likely step into a larger role with the loss of defensive stalwart Matthias Frick. -Richie

New player to watch: Ruben Mesalles

Freshman Ruben Mesalles proved that he will be an exciting player to watch in an exhibition against UNC-Wilmington. The midfielder scored in the 35th minute and then again in the 73rd minute, contributing to Duke’s total of four goals. Prior to Duke, the Longboat, Fla., native attended IMG Academy since he was 12 years old. During his time at IMG Academy, Mesalles led as the top scorer on several of his teams, including the U19 team he captained. With an explosive start, it will be interesting to see how valuable Mesalles can turn out to be for the Blue Devils. -Naseri

Returning players to watch: Peter Stroud, Thorleifur Ulfarsson

Sophomore central midfielder Peter Stroud lived up to the high expectations last season, starting all 17 games at central midfielder and winning numerous ACC and team accolades. Stroud was recently named one of five team captains for the Blue Devils, and will look to lead the Blue Devils this season. 

Sophomore forward Thorleifur Ulfarsson is poised for a big 2021 season. Ulfarsson has a knack for finding the back of the net. He scored four goals last season, and scored three times against Virginia to log Duke’s first hat trick since 2015. -DeChurch 

Most anticipated matchup: Sept. 19 @ North Carolina 

Duke is scheduled to play three teams in the top-six, with another in the top 15 in the nation. Of these incredible games, the showdown with North Carolina stands out the most. The Blue Devils’ showdown with the Tar Heels is Sept. 19, sandwiched between two ACC contests.

North Carolina is coming off an impressive 9-5-4 season, and it beat Duke in all 3 of its matchups a season ago. The Tar Heels are returning all but two of their starters from their semifinal game against Marshall last season, which was a loss but capped off an exceptional year. -DeChurch

Best-case scenario

As I discussed earlier, scoring was really their most glaring problem last year, but if they can keep their preseason momentum going all season I could see the Blue Devils finishing in the middle of the ACC and potentially making it past the first round of the ACC Championship. The ACC is a tough conference with some powerhouse teams, and Duke’s young squad (four of the five captains this year are sophomores), while talented, still have some growing pains to get through before they can really compete with the upper echelon of college soccer, so a best-case scenario for this team should be more about continuing to build towards competitiveness rather than immediately expecting greatness. -Richie

Worst-case scenario

The Blue Devils had a long 2020 season that was full of COVID-19 restrictions and anxieties, and it ended in a losing season. This year, Duke will be up against top tier programs like Pittsburgh and North Carolina that are coming off of a stronger 2020 performance. If the team becomes plagued with injuries throughout the season from some key players and if they struggle to establish a strong start, a lack of confidence may force them to suffer another losing season. -Naseri

Prediction

6-5-4 (1-5-2 in the ACC), loss in ACC first round -DeChurch

6-6-3 (3-3-2 in the ACC), loss in ACC quarterfinals -Richie

7-4-4 (4-2-2 in the ACC), loss in ACC first round -Naseri


Sasha Richie

Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and the Blue Zone Editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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