CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The Duke University men’s soccer team hit the crossbar and had another point-blank shot blocked as it battled 12th-ranked North Carolina to a 0-0 tie tonight at Fetzer Field. Duke redshirt senior goalkeeper Alex Long made seven stops for the Blue Devils in the tie.
Long’s seven saves are the second most of his career as Duke posted its third shutout of the season and held the Tar Heels scoreless for the third time in 2013. The Blue Devils move to 4-4-3 overall and 0-3-2 in ACC play, while North Carolina stands at 3-1-5 overall and 0-0-5 in conference action.
The opening minutes of the game were played primarily in the midfield as both teams felt each other out. The Blue Devils, featuring a veteran starting lineup, maintained good possession, but the stalwart Tar Heel defense kept Duke at bay.
“The beginning of the game is always going to be tight in a game like this between Duke and Carolina so we went with experience to start the game,” said head coach John Kerr. “We had six natural seniors and one fifth-year senior in Alex Long and three juniors and one sophomore. We really thought about how we were going to prepare for this game and I thought the beginning part of the game we had to go with experience.”
As the half progressed North Carolina built a rhythm and created a collection of dangerous chances. Valimaa Verneri had the first look with a strike from just outside the penalty area that was tipped just wide of the left post by Long. The veteran goalie came up big again minutes later with a diving stop on a Josh Rice shot to the far post.
“[Getting forward out of the back] is something [North Carolina] does very well and they like to switch play with long diagonal balls,” Kerr said. “They’re trying to upset our defense by doing that. And to be fair I thought we handled it pretty well overall because we didn’t have too many crosses coming from their outside backs. They weren’t as dangerous as they normally are.”
After weathering the North Carolina storm, Duke started stringing passes together and getting forward. Late in the first half rookie Brody Huitema played a great ball into the box for a streaking Luis Rendon. The sophomore midfielder’s first touch was just a bit off as North Carolina goalkeeper Brendan Moore scooped up the loose ball to send the teams into halftime tied at zero.
North Carolina had a 9-3 edge in shots in the opening 45 minutes with Long making two saves.
With the Blue Devils holding off the North Carolina attack in the first half, Duke started gaining confidence on the offensive end. Playing with a great rhythm and pace, the Blue Devils nearly took the 1-0 lead with 24 minutes to play. Senior Alex Sauciuc, playing a season-high 83 minutes, slipped a perfectly weighted pass through the middle for freshman Brody Huitema. The rookie striker got in behind the defense for a one-on-one with the Moore, but his shot ricocheted off the crossbar.
“The young guys got a chance to look at the game as it started and figure out ways to help the team and I thought they all made a massive contribution tonight,” Kerr said of the impact the freshmen and sophomores made off the bench.
Duke junior Nick Palodichuk had another great look for the Blue Devils late in regulation as his strike from 12 yards was blocked by Boyd Okwuonu over the crossbar. Both squads continued to push forward in search of the game winner, but neither team could get past the respective stalwart backlines as they headed to overtime for the ninth time in the programs’ histories.
Neither squad was able to get much going offensively in the overtime sessions. North Carolina had the best chance of the two periods as a Tar Heel free kick from just outside the penalty area skipped past the far post untouched.
Overall, North Carolina held a 20-6 advantage in shots with seven of those on goal. Duke had two shots on goal and hit the crossbar once. Moore finished with two saves for the Tar Heels.
The Blue Devils continue ACC play with a midweek tilt against Virginia. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., Oct. 8 at Koskinen Stadium.