Twice over the course of this long Labor Day weekend, the Blue Devils beat the Tigers. The matchup that everyone knows about, of course, is the football game Duke won against Clemson. But Duke earned another kind of football victory this weekend, too.
The Blue Devils took home a commanding 2-0 road win Monday afternoon against Princeton to climb to 3-0-1 overall. On the Myslik Field inside the Tigers’ Roberts Stadium, Duke got itself back in the game, recovering from a sloppy tie against Wofford Friday with a new offensive toughness that put the match neatly away.
“We were pretty strong in every department: physically, tactically, emotionally, technically,” said head coach John Kerr after the game, “So [I’m] very proud of how we performed and it's a good, good win for us.”
While the 10th-ranked Blue Devils knocked on the door early, the breakthrough did not come until a few minutes into the second half, when freshman striker UIfur Bjornsson headed home a lob from graduate midfielder Cameron Kerr to put Duke on top. It was Bjornsson’s first career goal, though he has been showing flashes of potential all season long.
“[Bjornsson]’s a good player, and [it was] just a matter of time before he got on the score sheet,” said Kerr. “It's a good opportunity for him to get on the end of a cross and finish off his first goal for us as a Duke player.”
It took a while to score, but the Blue Devils were on the attack right after the opening kickoff. Graduate striker Forster Ajago slipped through the Tiger defense just a few minutes in to pick up a through ball, though his shot was just barely blocked by Princeton keeper Khamari Hadaway. Chaos ensued as both teams collapsed in on the sitting duck within the penalty area, but a few more good defensive stops from the Tiger corps had the ball cleared.
The barrage went on throughout the first half, as junior midfielder Ruben Mesalles continued to demonstrate his potency on set pieces. He fired a ball towards the top right corner of the net, forcing Hadaway to make a diving save. There was even a point where it looked like Duke had netted its first of the evening, when Ajago sped past the Princeton back line and put one into the back of the net. Alas, the offside flag was up and the goal was brought back.
While the first half ended 0-0, the scoring went on after Bjornsson’s second-period goal. The Blue Devils continued to bring the pressure, relying on outside midfielders Kerr and Mesalles to run the ball downfield and lob dangerous crosses into the box. The two have been a powerful duo on the edge, and both have been strong on set-pieces as well. They have an assist each so far this season.
“[Cameron Kerr]'s been really, really good. Same with Ruben on the left side,” said John Kerr. “That's the good part about our team is we can hurt teams from all over the place. And that's really hard to deal with.”
The second goal came less than ten minutes after the first, when another Cameron cross was deflected out to sophomore midfielder Wayne Frederick. Frederick promptly fired the ball into the back of the net, providing the Blue Devils with some insurance as the game wound down to a close. From there, it was smooth sailing. Duke did not face much in the way of pressure from Princeton (1-1), and continued to control the pace of the game.
While this certainly was a game the away group was favored in, soccer can be a volatile sport. Any team can win on any day. Tonight, Duke proved that it has the composure to do the little things, even in those games that maybe will not mean as much down the stretch as an ACC game against North Carolina or Syracuse will later this season. Now, the group from Durham will pivot towards in-conference play against some tough competition. Next up on the schedule is Virginia.
“We've had three good scrimmages in the preseason and then four good games so far in the regular season,” Kerr said. “Everything's going according to plan.”
Duke will look to continue its undefeated start to the season when the Cavaliers come to Durham 7pm Friday evening.
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