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No. 2 Duke men's soccer draws Virginia on the road in high-stakes ACC battle

Eliot Hamill helped Duke walk away from Virginia with a scoreless draw.
Eliot Hamill helped Duke walk away from Virginia with a scoreless draw.

From the first second of Friday night’s match to the last, the scoreboard in Charlottesville, Va., broadcasted a pair of ominous zeroes. The numbers refused to move. The game was tight and tense, but it ultimately lent favor to the Blue Devils, who were able to maintain their spot at the top of the ACC Coastal Division.

No. 2 Duke men’s soccer traveled to No. 21 Virginia’s Klöckner Stadium Friday to face off in an important conference match. The game ended in a scoreless draw.

Duke has been excellent this season, leading its division and holding its spot at No. 2 in the nation. At the forefront of the team is Shakur Mohammed, who carried the title of ACC Freshman of the Year into his sophomore season. Mohammed has scored five of Duke’s 19 goals, owing to the swift speed and precision with which he manages the ball and his talent for finding opportunities near the net.

Unfortunately for Duke, neither Mohammed nor any of his teammates were able to land a goal against Virginia.

“What a bummer,” said head coach John Kerr about the missed shot opportunities. “We got off to a really good start—created seven shots in the first 20 minutes ... It looked like we were just inches away from knocking it across the line.”

Despite Duke’s lack of scoring, Kerr said he was “very happy with how [his team] started the game and kept the pressure on.”

From the start, the pressure on the field was clear from both sides. Virginia (7-4-1, 3-1-1 in the ACC) stands second to Duke (8-0-3, 3-0-2) in the Coastal Division and has lost merely one conference game against Notre Dame. The Cavaliers have managed to beat out some impressive ACC competitors this season, including Virginia Tech.

Tension filled the stands just as it did the field: Though there was an impressive crowd of spectators in Klöckner, the first half of the game was accompanied by a breathless quiet. Possession was shared almost equally, with Duke keeping the ball for 45% of the game in what was a whiplash match to watch.

Just 25 minutes in, the Blue Devils had taken five shots on goal, none of them meeting their mark. The Cavaliers did not fare any better, however: They took two corner kicks in the first five minutes of the game and could not get the ball past Duke’s defensive lineup.

“We actually changed our formation in the middle of the first half because we were getting stretched,” said Kerr. “We tried to even out the numbers in midfield to make sure we weren’t overwhelmed on either side.”

Indeed, Duke’s defensive performance stole the show. Virginia took a total of 12 shots and had each one maneuvered away from the box by goalkeeper Eliot Hamill and his defenders: freshman Kamran Acito, sophomore Ruben Mesalles and junior Amir Daley. Their performances were particularly notable given that two of the Blue Devils’ starting defenders, Antino Lopez and Axel Gudbjornsson, were out.

The Blue Devils’ success without these important players “showed how resilient [their] group was,” said Kerr, who added that he “thought they played fabulous tonight.”

As Duke’s starting goalkeeper for what is now the third season, Hamill had another exemplary performance in the box.

“I thought Elliot was great again, organizing and [making] a couple of key saves,” said Kerr.

All season, only five goals have gotten past Hamill’s hands; Saturday, he was clearly determined not to change that statistic. He saved both of Virginia’s shots on goal, one of which was a swift bender from forward Leo Afonso.

The Blue Devil defense may have done its best work in the last five minutes of the first half. Hamill dove far right to save a shot from Virginia’s Michael Tsicoulias; a Virginia corner kick lent a shot opportunity to Cavalier Axel Ahlander, whose efforts were diverted; with a mere 42 seconds left in the half, Virginia earned yet another corner kick, which was kept away from Hamill by Duke’s energetic defenders. It was a lightning-quick few minutes, in which the Blue Devils certainly brought the thunder.

There was no loss of energy on the field as the clock ticked closer to the 90-minute mark. There was also not a single goal, but as the ACC Network commentator said, this game was “no goals, but a whole lotta fun.”

The first 10 minutes of the second half showed Duke keeping a better hold on the ball. The Blue Devils held 51% possession in the latter 45 minutes, a step up from the first half’s 39%. They also continued to provide a plethora of opportunities for a goal: Mohammed took a clean shot in the 60th minute, though the ball was saved by Virginia goalkeeper Holden Brown.

Five minutes later, the Blue Devils lost an opportunity with a corner kick and let the Cavaliers take the ball down the field in what looked like a fast break toward the net; Duke’s defense, however, showed up to prevent any success for Virginia. The match was back-and-forth, breath-bating and maintaining suspense up until the very last second as the crowd realized that the game could swing in favor of either team.

Fierce competition between players swelled into apparent anger on the field: 72 minutes into the match, Duke midfielder Nick Pariano and Afonso were both dealt yellow cards as their collision on the field turned into what looked like a shouting match. Though the home-field advantage meant a heavy chorus of booing against Pariano after this, he remained composed for the rest of the night, waving and smiling at the crowd when he was subbed out in the 88th minute.    

With 15 minutes left, the intensity on each side was palpable. Both teams had taken 10 shots; two minutes later, both teams had committed twelve fouls.

Ultimately, the Blue Devils headed back to Durham having thwarted the Cavaliers of their home-field advantage, thus maintaining their spot at the top of the Coastal. “Away from home, in conference play, nil-nil is a good result,” said Kerr. “We made sure that we stayed on top of our division ... so I’m really proud of how we went about our business.”

Mohammed, Pariano and junior midfielder Peter Stroud continued to prove themselves as leaders in both game and spirit on the soccer field, while Hamill ensured his team’s security in the standings with great defensive action in the box.

“Really pleased to come out of it with a tie and still top of the standings,” Kerr said.

Duke will next kick off Friday against Notre Dame in Koskinen Stadium for a Parents’ Weekend performance. After their battle in Charlottesville, the Blue Devils head into this game undefeated.

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