DURHAM, N.C.—The Duke University men’s soccer team got goals from three different players as the Blue Devils ran past No. 19 Harvard, 3-1, on a soggy Koskinen Stadium field tonight in the opening day of the Duke/Nike Classic. The game was head coach John Kerr’s home debut after serving as the leader at Harvard for nine seasons.
Duke grabs its first win to improve to 1-2-0, while Harvard drops its season opener. This was the Blue Devils’ third straight top-25 opponent of the season.
“You saw a really good performance from two front guys, Kyle Bethel and Mike Grella tonight, Kerr said.” “Anytime they get the ball in the final third there is always a chance. They can create something either together or on their own and that’s a good sign for us going forward.”
Harvard controlled the run of play in the early minutes as both teams were trying to establish their rhythms and adapt to the field conditions. The Crimson got a couple of good looks in the early going, but it was Duke which capitalized first in the 20th minute.
Playing in wet field conditions, junior midfielder Josh Bienenfeld pressured the Harvard keeper into mishandling the ball right at the goal. Bienenfeld picked up the turnover and dribbled the ball into the goal for the 1-0 Blue Devil lead.
Less than three minutes later it was senior striker Mike Grella finding the back of the net. After having his initial shot blocked, Grella one-timed the rebound and sent a rifle to the right corner of the net and a 2-0 advantage with just over 20 minutes left in the opening half.
“It’s tougher for defenders I think [to play in the rain], it’s tough to switch directions,” Grella said. “For an attacker it’s awesome, you can shoot from distance and you can take people on a lot easier, so I enjoyed the conditions.”
With the 2-0 lead, the Blue Devils continued to put the pressure on and control the pace of the game. The Crimson held off Duke and took advantage of an opportunity with 10 minutes remaining until halftime. A ball served into the box was flicked on by Michael Giammanco to Michael Fucito who snuck in behind the Blue Devil defense. Fucito got on the end of the header and volleyed the ball past Duke goalie Brendan Fitzgerald to make it a one-goal game again.
Grella nearly made it a two-goal game again moments later after taking the ball away from a Harvard defender, but his shot was cleared off the line by Giammanco. That would be how the half would end as Duke took the 2-1 lead into the locker room.
The opening part of the second frame featured a lot of play in the midfield by the two teams. Sophomore Christian Ibeagha provided a good scoring opportunity 12 minutes into the half, getting a head on a corner kick that was cleared by the Harvard defender protecting the far post.
The Crimson picked up its pressure as the half continued and created good looks at the net, but were unable to break through the steady Duke backline. Junior Andre Akpan’s header off a service with 22 minutes left to play sailed just wide right to keep it a 2-1 game.
“I thought Pav Castaneda tonight was absolutely fantastic,” Kerr said. “He cut out so many dangerous moments for them with his savvy. He cut out [Andre] Akpan and kept him relatively quiet tonight. That’s because he was reading the game so well. For me, he was the player of the match.”
Freshman Kyle Bethel sealed the victory for the Blue Devils in the 82nd minute with his second tally of the year. Rookie defender Ian Kalis fed Bethel down the left flank. Bethel beat his defender and slotted the ball to the far post and a 3-1 Duke lead.
“Offensively, I think [our progress is] good,” Grella said. “We scored two goals last weekend against two top-five opponents and only being together two weeks and we scored three goals tonight, so I think our offense is coming along good.”
Colgate held a 16-11 advantage on shots, while Harvard won the corner kick battle, 3-2. Fitzgerald made three stops in the game, while Joseph Alexander and Austin Harms split time and had one save apiece.
“We’re trying to move forward each day and get better and that’s what is exciting, Kerr said.” “This team hasn’t hit on all cylinders and we’re not supposed to this time of year. We’re all still trying to figure things out and learn to play with each other. There are some good individual performances tonight some good moments as a team, so that’s encouraging.”
The Raiders take on American in the second game of the tournament on Sept. 7 at 2:30 p.m. The Eagles defeated N.C. State, 3-0 in the tournament opener.