Duke’s undefeated streak in regular-season matches stretched 23 straight games, back to Oct. 15, 2021. However, all streaks must come to an end, and just like how that run started — a match following a regular-season loss to Clemson — the Tigers played spoiler yet again, sending the Blue Devils back to Durham with a new streak: one loss.
On Friday night, No. 8 Duke fell to Clemson 2-0, conceding a deflected own-goal and a header by Tyler Trimnal at Historic Riggs Field in Clemson, S.C. The loss marks the Blue Devils’ first of the year.
“[The performance was] overall disappointing compared to the form that we've shown earlier in the season,” said Duke head coach John Kerr. “Certainly Clemson is a tough opponent, but I just thought we weren't as diligent as we have been.”
With 16 minutes to play, Trimnal put the final nail in Duke’s coffin. On the fifth Clemson corner kick of the night, Trimnal rose to meet the service, deflecting a header into the bottom-left corner. Diving to his right, freshman goalkeeper Julian Eyestone was beaten, and so were the Blue Devils (4-1-1, 1-1 in the ACC) who had to watch Trimnal slide into the corner flag in celebration.
The Blue Devils started the match sloppily. Missed passes, bad reads, and a staunch defensive effort gave Duke troubles moving forward. In a physical game, Clemson (4-2-1, 1-1) brought the energy from the jump and looked the more dangerous side.
“They were very disruptive the first 30 minutes,” Kerr said. “Clemson didn't allow us to get into a rhythm of play. Their zone defense was very well organized.”
Fifteen minutes into the match, Duke’s Amir Daley’s sliding clearance off a Clemson cross kept the match level. But senior center back Antino Lopez’s clearance attempt deflected into the back of his own net after another driven ball by a Tiger winger just four minutes later. With the goal, Clemson took an early 1-0 advantage.
After the goal, Duke started to shift the momentum.
Increasing their possession, the Blue Devils created their first big chance through striker Forster Ajago. Receiving a through ball on the left wing, Ajago found himself one-on-one against Clemson keeper Joseph Andema. However, as Clemson’s defense recovered, Ajago was unable to find himself a clear angle after rounding Andema, who flew out of his net.
Just a few minutes later, a Ruben Mesalles free kick landed on Jai Bean’s foot, but the striker was unable to find the back of the net on his diving attempt. Clemson went into the halftime interval with a 1-0 lead.
“It took us a while to figure it out and try to commit players as we moved forward,” Kerr said. “Once we did that, we had more options going forward into their half, but it took us a while to figure that out.”
As the second half progressed, it looked more and more like the start of the first. Clemson’s relentless pressure forced Duke into a plethora of turnovers. Although the Blue Devils were able to possess the ball, their execution in the final third was what lacked, never able to find the key pass.
“We were trying to complete passes that had a low percentage of success,” Kerr said. “We needed more lines of possession, we needed more time on the ball, we needed to get into their half and make them work. When we did that, we looked pretty good.”
Nevertheless, a chance can come out of thin air, and that’s exactly what happened 30 minutes into the second half. Sophomore midfielder Kenan Hot held Duke’s biggest chance to level the match as his right-footed knuckleball nailed the crossbar, giving Ajago a free header that he directed straight to Andema.
The separation in this evenly-contested match was Clemson’s decisive finishing. The Blue Devils outshot the Tigers 8-5 in the second frame, but Clemson seized its moments, culminating with Trimnal’s finish.
“It wasn't our best outing, but sometimes that happens,” Kerr said. “We have a lot to be proud of, but now we have to start a new winning streak.”
Looking to bounce back, the Blue Devils travel Saturday to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina.
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