It is an important time for soccer, with the World Cup in full swing in Qatar. Sunday afternoon, a heavyweight matchup between Spain and Germany raged on overseas. Meanwhile, No. 7-overall seed Duke laced up its boots at Koskinen Stadium for its third-round NCAA tournament matchup against No. 10-overall seed Florida International.
Though the Panthers brought their best, the Blue Devils, supported by their strong defensive performance and a goal from senior Scotty Taylor in the dying minutes of the first half, hung on to beat FIU with their fifth 1-0 win of the season.
“In every playoff game, it never goes according to plan exactly. The result went according to plan and the shutout went according to plan, but we planned on scoring more goals than we did … But at the end of the day, I thought we were resolute in defending, especially down the stretch,” head coach John Kerr said after the game.
The Blue Devils got off to a strong start, controlling the midfield for most of the first 20 minutes of the first half. Their attack also had a few opportunities early on, with their best chance on goal coming from junior Antino Lopez in the third minute of the match. However, the Panthers picked up the pace late in the first half and continued their aggressive play for the rest of the game.
Still, Duke showed in the second half that it was comfortable holding on to a lead, anchored by defenders junior Amir Daley and freshman Axel Gudbjornsson. After going up 1-0, the Blue Devil backline was sensational, handling the second-half pressure from the Panthers with timely clearances and vital blocks throughout the half.
Graduate goalkeeper Eliot Hamill, who had the second-best goals-against average in the NCAA this season, also did not hurt the Blue Devils' chances. Hamill was not tested early, but he came in clutch for Duke with critical saves late in the game. The Blue Devils were ready for the onslaught, according to junior midfielder Peter Stroud.
“They're always gonna throw in the kitchen sink. And that's exactly what they did. And naturally, if you're up one-nil, you're gonna take your foot off the gas a little bit and sit back, which is what we did,” he said afterwards. “You know, when they're putting us back? No one seems to point fingers. Everyone seems to do their jobs. And that's something that's super special about this team.”
Although Duke’s attack did not have the success it likely wanted Sunday, it managed to capitalize on one of their two shots on goal. Taylor connected on a cornerkick from junior forward Miguel Ramirez with a pinpoint backheel flick to redirect the ball into the back of the net.
“I mean, it's just like Coach Kerr drew up,” Taylor said of the move. “I proceeded to get yelled at. It usually doesn't go in. This time, it was good fortune. It’s a nice feeling.”
The Blue Devils can learn from this match as they move forward in the tournament, especially the physicality. With 37 fouls in total, 22 for FIU and 15 for Duke, the match was a tough test of the Blue Devils’ resoluteness, but Kerr emphasized the team’s discipline.
“We're kind of used to it in the ACC. There's a lot of physical teams in our league,” he said. “We didn't get caught up in the game and get into any retaliation for the most part, and stood strong and let the referee do his job.”
Looking forward, Duke turns its eyes toward its quarterfinal matchup against Creighton. The Bluejays, an at-large team, have been on a hot streak as of late, taking down No. 15-seed Tulsa in their third-round matchup after defeating No. 2-seed Washington in the second.
“We know that [the Bluejays] are coming here and it's not going to be easy for us. They're used to doing well on the road,” Kerr said. “We’ve got to play our game and we've got to start a little bit better and control the midfield a little bit better than we did today.”
The quarterfinal match will commence 1 p.m. Saturday Dec. 3 at Koskinen Stadium, as the Blue Devils look to extend their postseason run.
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