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No. 2 Duke men's soccer powers past Howard at home behind Frederick's early goal

Duke freshman Wayne Frederick's first-career goal proved to be all the Blue Devils needed Tuesday against Howard.
Duke freshman Wayne Frederick's first-career goal proved to be all the Blue Devils needed Tuesday against Howard.

You may have heard the expression, “To be the best, you have to beat the best.” However, have you heard, “To be the best, you have to continue to beat the rest?" Though far less pleasing to the ear, the latter proved quite relevant as the second-ranked Blue Devils welcomed Howard to Koskinen Stadium Tuesday night. 

Coming off of a massive 3-2 victory at then-No. 1 Wake Forest, Duke needed to take care of business against the Bison to continue its rise up the United Soccer Coaches Poll. Although Duke managed to come out of Tuesday’s affair with a 2-0 victory, the Blue Devils realized early on that Howard would not allow itself to be pushed aside. 

“Coach [Phillip] Gyau had his Howard players ready to play this game tonight,” head coach John Kerr said after the game. “They were fired up, and they were really disciplined. They did well in the counter-attack. They were a lot more progressive than we anticipated.”

The first chance of the game went Howard’s way. In the fifth minute, junior forward Mason Christian found himself one-on-one with Duke goalkeeper Eliot Hamill, but Hamill found a way to make a save to keep the match level. 

Sixteen minutes into the match, the start turned worse as an ankle injury forced standout freshman center back Axel Gudbjornsson to be subbed off the field. Gudbjornsson landed awkwardly after winning a header in the air. 

“We’ll check in the morning to see how swollen it gets,” Kerr said. “[Gudbjornsson has] a little bit of a banged up ankle.”

Following the injury, Duke (8-0-2, 3-0-1 in the ACC) managed to turn up the pressure and found its breakthrough in the 26th minute. Freshman midfielder Wayne Frederick, son of Howard University president Wayne A.I. Frederick, had his cross blocked for a corner, but on the ensuing kick, he found the ball bouncing in the box and powered it home for his first-career goal. Duke went into the half up 1-0. 

“I just knew I had to hit it as hard as I could,” Frederick said. “Luckily it got through.”

The second half started with a similar trend: consistent Duke possession and pressure hurt by unusual mistakes. The best chance of the second half for Howard (2-7) came in the 55th minute when sophomore forward Bryson Baker’s half-volley flew over the crossbar. 

“We gave them a couple of looks and they, unfortunately for them, didn’t capitalize,” Kerr said. “I’m very pleased that we got the win and the shutout.” 

Though the start to the half was sloppy for Duke, water eventually found its level in the 64th minute as sophomore forward Jai Bean placed the ball into the top-right corner of Howard’s net. Bean flashed his strength and speed as he beat a Howard defender to the ball, shrugged him off and found the angle to score.

From then on, the chances piled up for Duke. Bean hit the crossbar and minutes later, sophomore midfielder Shakur Mohammed found the end of a cross but put his sliding effort wide of the back post. Duke was not able to find another goal as the final whistle blew with a score of 2-0.

Although not the cleanest performance, Duke still finds itself unbeaten on the year through 10 matches and perhaps learned a different way to get a result Tuesday night, one that involves a gritty performance against a hungry underdog.

More than likely, Duke will remain the favorite in the rest of its regular season matches. This will mean that, like tonight, opposing teams will give the Blue Devils their best shot. But in order to be the best, that is surely a challenge worth conquering. 

“We can’t be complacent, we have to keep working hard,” Frederick said. “Then, we’ll hopefully get the results we want moving forward.” 

Duke next travels to No. 21 Virginia to resume conference play Friday at 7 p.m.

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