Soccer can be frustrating at times. Even if a team dominates possession and manages to largely stifle its opponents’ attacking efforts, the only metric that decides the outcome of a match is the score.
For the first half of Saturday evening’s matchup against Boston College in Koskinen Stadium, it seemed like it was going to be one of those frustrating games for No. 7 Duke, which controlled the flow of the game but could not seem to find the back of the net. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, there are two halves. In the second one, the Blue Devils managed to pull out a 1-0 victory against the Eagles.
“Overall, I thought we played well,” head coach John Kerr said after the game. “We should’ve put the game away earlier than we did.”
Through more than 50 minutes of play, the Blue Devils (6-0-1, 2-0-1 in the ACC) did not seem to be able to find the net themselves, let alone the back of it. Duke had only one shot on goal on four total shots through the first half, despite controlling possession.
Finally, in the 53rd minute, the Durham-based outfit was able to convert on one of its chances. As junior defender Antino Lopez took the ball down the left sideline, he created just enough separation from the sprinting defender to fire a cross into the Eagles’ box, where it was immediately headed out.
But unfortunately for Boston College (2-3-3, 0-2-1), the play was not over yet. When that ball was deflected out and away from the net, it conveniently arrived at the feet of Duke midfielder Ruben Mesalles, who promptly proceeded to rip the ball past the outstretched hands of Boston College keeper Leon Musial and into the far side of the net. Mesalles’ goal was the only of the game, and a much-needed tone-setter for Duke as well.
“[Scoring the goal] was great,” Mesalles said. “It’s a tough team to beat, they have a lot of guys at the back and when we break the deadlock and more chances come, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
The difference between the first and second halves of the game was immediately noticeable when the Blue Devils took to the pitch for the latter half of play. A team that had seemed sloppy at times during the first half came out for the second with a fire lit under it. While Duke had only four shots and one on goal in the first half, the Blue Devils took nine in the second half, putting two on net, including the one that decided the game.
This matchup was another in a long line of physical ones for Duke. In both of its last two games, against North Carolina and Elon, Duke and its opponent combined for a total of 29 fouls. Saturday’s match was not all that different. The Blue Devils and Eagles committed a total of 22 infractions on the evening, leading the referee to issue four yellow cards during the course of play, two on each team. There was even a bit of a scuffle after the final whistle between Duke goalkeeper Eliot Hamill and Boston College striker Ted Cargill. Each picked up a yellow card after time had been called as a result.
But despite the significant physicality of the game, Duke was once again unfazed. In fact, it may have proven to be an advantage for the Blue Devils.
“We're a scrappy team. Sometimes we get dirty but … we like to play physical,” said Mesalles, “It’s best for us. It’s how we play.”
One area in which Duke has continued to shine has been on defense. Saturday was another good outing for the back line, anchored by freshman center backs Axel Gudbjornsson and Kamran Acito. The 6-foot-4 Gudbjornsson continued to haunt the Eagles on set pieces, often drawing the attention of more than one Boston College defender on corner kicks.
Acito did an excellent job of preventing the Boston College counterattack, which seemed to be its primary offensive game plan. More than once, he was able to stop a breakaway with a well-timed slide or a quick recovery to block a through-ball. The back line’s excellent play seemed to give the rest of the team the opportunity to press forward and put pressure on the Boston College defense.
“I mean, they do an amazing job. Huge guys and they're really good on the ball and they just give you a lot of confidence going forward,” Mesalles said of the defense. “They're handling the pressure amazing and very rarely [making] any mistakes, which is unbelievably awesome.”
That strong defense, along with more standout play from Hamill, has been a big part of why Duke has allowed just two goals in its first seven games.
Duke now readies for a Tuesday matchup against Yale at Koskinen, as the Bulldogs aim to be the team that finally rains on the Blue Devils’ unbeaten parade.
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