Duke’s mistakes did not go unpunished.
On a sloppy Thursday night for the fourth-ranked Blue Devils, No. 24 Southern California made the most of its opportunities, scoring three unanswered goals on five shots in a 3-1 upset win at Koskinen Stadium. Although Duke dominated the tempo of the match at times, controlling 62% of the possession, a few carefree turnovers combined with some squandered chances in front of the net proved extremely costly.
“I thought we built it really well but … we didn’t capitalize on a couple chances to go up 2-0,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “We’ve got to get a better mentality especially defensively. They had five shots. Three goals [is] way too many goals.”
Trouble for the Blue Devils (1-1) began shortly after reigning ACC Freshman of the Year Kat Rader gave them a 1-0 lead, when Trojan winger Kayla Colbert received a through ball down the right wing in the 37th minute. The junior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., lifted a perfectly weighted cross towards the head of Maribel Flores, who steered it masterfully into the far right hand corner past a diving Leah Freeman in Duke’s goal. The effort was the first collegiate goal for Flores, a Mexican national team product who recently won the 2023 U20 CONCACAF Championship.
Duke maintained composure when the game was poised 1-1, coming out of halftime re-energized and applying pressure on the wings. The outside backs pressed higher, creating overloads that lead to mismatches. However, sloppy play in the back would poison its bounceback efforts. A miscommunication and turnover at the top of the box allowed the ball to bounce to the feet of Angeles Escobar, who gracefully turned towards goal. She fired an absolute howler from about 20 yards out, rippling the upper right hand corner to shouts of elation from the Trojans’ bench. The finish sucked the air out of Koskinen Stadium and gave Southern California (2-0) the one-goal advantage in the 62nd minute.
“Defensively it wasn’t a good night,” Church said. “We didn't get tight enough to keep them from penetrating either on a dribble or on the pass.”
The defensive woes only worsened in the 78th minute, when outside back Elle Piper failed to hold the high line. Her five yards of separation allowed Colbert to sneak behind the Blue Devils on the left side, receive a perfectly weighted pass from Helena Sampaio over the top, and smash the ball into the net off the hands of Freeman from inside the six-yard box.
“We worked a lot on our locked-down shape, and we didn’t do it very well,” Church said.
Duke’s best moments in the match came thanks to the continued dominance of Rader. The Stuart, Fla., native found herself in the perfect position in the 13th minute, when Piper made an overlapping run down the right wing. Piper then sent a brilliant high-arcing cross toward the back of the six-yard box, where Rader, towering over 5-foot-2 defender Zoe Burns, nestled the ball into the back of the net with a glancing header back across the mouth of goal.
“Elle … is very very dangerous on that side and it’s a great service to the back post. Kat [had a] great header back across goal with it.”
Rader continued her first-half dominance by creating an excellent scoring chance for Devin Lynch in the 29th minute. After gliding down the wing, she effortlessly lofted the ball into the box, where after a bit of a scrum, Lynch fired a shot on target that was saved by Trojan goalie Hannah Poulter.
Rader, however, did not find the ball for much of the second half, becoming almost a non-factor in the final third as Duke continued to try to penetrate down the opposite side of the field.
“She’s such a great player, she creates so much when she has the ball,” Church said of Rader. “It’s just, we didn’t find it. We didn’t get the ball enough [to her]. Maybe we should have done something different.”
After some time in the video room, Church said, Duke will hope to regroup after a quick turnaround Sunday afternoon at home against Wisconsin.
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