After a hard stretch of ACC matchups, Duke men’s soccer got back on track Tuesday by closing out its nonconference slate with a win.
Traveling to Furman, the No. 18 Blue Devils knocked off the Paladins 3-2 in a match that was much more one-sided than the final score would suggest. Outshooting Furman 22 to eight, 14 to six on goal, Duke was in control all night, setting the pace of the game and effectively countering the Paladins’ efforts to get back in it.
“Furman is a [much] better team than their record shows...I thought the effort and pragmatism of our group stood out, and we managed the game down the stretch,” head coach John Kerr said afterwards, and his matter-of-fact attitude reflects the main takeaway of the game: the Blue Devils played how they want to be playing.
Duke’s hallmark this year has been its aggressive press and its approach in stretching the field. Never letting the ball get bogged down in the midfield, the Blue Devils (10-3-0, 4-2-0 in the ACC) have created one of the most dangerous offenses in the ACC, and that was on full display against Furman (3-8-1, 2-2 in the Southern Conference). While an inordinate amount of shots ultimately missed the net or whiffed, a lucky break for the Paladins, it felt like more of the game was played in Furman’s penalty box than in Duke’s entire half, and the Blue Devils were very effective in creating space and making plays in the box—maybe too effective.
If there is one major critique that stands against Duke’s play Tuesday, it’s that it was a little too fancy in front of the net, sometimes opting for the pass or the dribble in an effort to get the perfect play rather than an easy shot on net. Still, if the takeaway in a game where you outshot your opponent 22 to eight is that you didn’t shoot enough, you probably played pretty well.
“We worked very very hard in our press and won a lot of balls in the field and counterattacked pretty well. We got ourselves some really good spots, and maybe the last ball or the last shot wasn't as efficient as it normally is, and, you know, we should have scored a couple more goals,” Kerr reflected.
Regardless, that ability to get on the front foot paid off on those three goals. The Blue Devils’ last two goals were more obvious reflections of the offensive pressure they so relentlessly created, as first, a clinic in teamwork resulted in a goal for sophomore Miguel Ramirez with assists from freshmen Jai Bean and Felix Barajas in the 72nd minute. Then, that was followed up fifteen minutes later by an outstanding individual effort near the left goalpost by freshman Shakur Mohammed, whose detailed footwork allowed him to beat the Paladins’ defense all by his lonesome. However, the goal that got the Blue Devils on the board first, a penalty kick tapped in by sophomore Peter Stroud 33 minutes into the game, came after Bean drew a foul in the box as the Paladins fruitlessly attempted to defend Duke’s press, and it set the tone early that the Blue Devils would be the game’s concertmaster.
While Duke did have a few mistakes—Furman got some good looks in the final minutes and a Duke handball resulted in a penalty kick goal for the Paladins—its overall play in a solid win brings the team some relief following two heartbreaking losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson. While those two losses were hard fought and came against two contending teams, Duke, ranked No. 3 before that stretch, is nonetheless glad to tally a win, especially as it stares down a trip to South Bend, Ind. for the penultimate regular season match against Notre Dame, No. 1 in the ACC Coastal and No. 20 nationally.
“It's good to get back on the winning side again, get our momentum back, and a lot of guys got a lot of time tonight, which is good...This gives us more confidence, and it's good to be in the win column and get our 10th one of the year, which is not easy to do in college soccer,” Kerr said.
The key for the Blue Devils through their final two games will be sticking with the gameplan that’s earned them such a dramatic turnaround from last season, where they went 4-10-3. If it can move the ball quickly, keep making creative passes and, most importantly, not let up on the press, Duke will give itself the best chance for success as it closes out the season. Still, regardless, of the result of these last two upcoming games, the Blue Devils can look back at this season as a success, especially being such a young team with more years left on the field.
“We do have a tough ending to the week, heading out to South Bend,... and we're going to continue to soldier on and learn from the mistakes that we did make tonight, and also continue to grow and develop some of our things that we're doing quite well,” Kerr said. “We will be the underdog, which is nice because we were on top of the table and everyone wants to shoot you down...so it's gonna be a fun opportunity for us and we're looking forward to it.”
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.