Opportunistic Duke Takes Down Denver, 3-1 in Second Round of NCAA Tournament

Soccer has been called the cruelest sport. It certainly was Sunday when Denver (14-3-5, 6-0-2) faced #7 Duke (12-4-4, 5-0-3) at Koskinen Field in Durham, North Carolina in Round Two NCAA Tournament action. It may have been an early penalty kick goal in the first five minutes by Duke that changed the entire complexion of the match. Despite Denver’s aggression over much of the rest of the match, the Blue Devils maximized their opportunities and ended up owning the day.

Denver fell behind early with a handball penalty kick scored by Duke’s Peter Straud at 5:14. Despite controlling much of the play in the first half, leading Duke in shots-on-goal by a 4-2 count, the Pioneers gave up yet another goal to the Blue Devils Mohammed Shakur on a cut-back goal at 15:09, 2-0 Duke.

DU’s Holger Olsson countered 15 minutes later in the first half with a DU PK to draw within one goal at halftime, 2-1. As expected, it was a physical first half with 15 called fouls, 8 on Denver.

Denver had numerous chances to knot to match in the second half. Duke goalie, Eliot Hammil, turned away several solid scoring chances by Denver. The Pioneers controlled the pace of play and shots-on-goal but Duke scored an insurance goal on a set piece when a Kamran Decito header and goal followed a two-touch corner kick 20 minutes into the second half, 3-1.

At that point, DU had to chase the game over the last 25 minutes. But it was to no avail. Denver had 9 shots on goal and 5 corners but could only muster one goal on the day. The ever-efficient Duke side only had 3 shots on goal and 4 corners but the Blue Devils maximized their handful of scoring opportunities. Still, the first goal scored by Duke may have been the difference in what was a tightly contested, physical match that saw 29 fouls at Koskinen Stadium.

For the Pioneers, the loss ends what was a remarkable season that ended sooner than they had planned at the outset. They were a top-ten team all season long that made its mark by winning huge matches against top teams like Maryland and Virginia. But even with their objectively strong resume, it wasn’t enough to earn a favorable draw in the NCAA Tournament and they ran into a strong, College Cup-contending Duke team after dispatching San Diego in the snow in Denver this week.

It’s a frustrating end, no doubt, but this team continued building the strong tradition that head coach Jamie Franks has established, winning their eighth Summit League championship in nine years. Even with today’s loss, the Pioneers’ future remains bright and expectations stay sky-high, right where they should be.

Top photo courtesy of Duke Athletics

2 thoughts on “Opportunistic Duke Takes Down Denver, 3-1 in Second Round of NCAA Tournament”

  1. Observations:

    1) That was a really, really rough handball to call on DU that early in the game. Seems to me that referees should have more latitude to not have to call such inadvertent hand balls. That call was a huge boost for Duke. DU was very fortunate in the prior USD game with the officiating, so may be it was karma to lose out on some calls today. But credit Duke for scoring goals. The Blue Devils took DU’s best punches, but still won out. 3-1. There is is reason Duke was ranked fourth – they scored when they needed to, and the Pios could only score from the penalty spot.

    2) DU was great in possession, and created many chances in the run of play. But Duke’s propensity to cash in on it’s limited opportunities made for a long afternoon for the Pios.

    2) Despite having a great season, DU needed more from goalie Isaac Nehme today than they got. He needed to make some saves today, but didn’t have a single save today… All three of Duke’s goals were on shots that were “saveable”…

    4) Feel really bad for DU’s seniors, who won’t have another chance at NCAA success.

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