GoDuke.com recently sat down with Duke men’s soccer head coach John Kerr to talk about the Blue Devils’ spring campaign, what the team was working on and what he looks forward to in the future from Duke soccer. The Blue Devils return all but one player to the squad and will bring in a host of talented new players as Kerr embarks upon his fifth season at the helm.
GoDuke: What are some of the things you knew you wanted to work on with this team coming into the spring season?
John Kerr: First and foremost, our attitude and fortitude. We had a difficult season last year and frustration on many levels. [We wanted to] readjust our physical and mental toughness during the spring and it was challenging and demanding, but it brought our team together which was the main thrust of the first portion of that spring training.
GoDuke: Is there anything tactically you’re looking at this spring?
JK: We’re trying to be more decisive and aggressive in the final third. Even last year, we had a good team that built up the ball really well, but our runs in the box and our commitment to the final third wasn’t there. This spring we tried to address that and create more havoc in there and execute and I thought we did a pretty good job.
GoDuke: What were some of the highlights of the games against Cincinnati and N.C. State?
JK: I just remember one moment when you saw Nick Palodichuk gather the ball in the middle of the field and just blow by a couple of defenders and scoring a great goal against Cincinnati. That was something for me that stood out because he had such a frustrating fall with his injuries and he wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent. This spring you could see him feeling better about his injuries and better about himself so that was exciting for Duke soccer.
GoDuke: How does a healthy Nick Palodichuk change the team that people saw this fall?
JK: We’re going to be more dangerous because he can shoot from any distance. He can take the ball and dribble and create his own openings. He’s a great passer and that’s probably what he doesn’t get a lot of credit for, but he’s created a lot of our opportunities this spring in terms of his commitment to the final third and we got exactly what we needed from him and the team.
GoDuke: Did any other players stand out or show good improvement from the fall to the spring?
JK: Our two captains, Sean Davis and Sebastien Ibeagha, consistently show that they are top college players and two forces that are going to be reckoned with this coming fall. They’re great leaders by example and they’re becoming more vocal. I couldn’t be happier with both of them.
GoDuke: What areas do you still feel that the team needs to improve upon?
JK: We have a couple of young guys coming in that are going to make an impact. In particular, Brody Huitema is going to come in and add a new dimension to our front line. We have Alex Long coming in to compete for the number one goalkeeper spot with Chad Bush and Wilson Fisher, which is really exciting for our team.
GoDuke: Now that spring is basically over, what do you tell players to focus on?
JK: The team has dramatically improved their approach to the game this spring. From the beginning of the spring season to the end, they were fully engaged and committed to the cause. We understand that we have to address our shortcomings from last fall and be hungry for this upcoming fall. I think the main message was that we have to keep maintaining the standards that we had this spring over the summer so that the fall won’t be a big drop-off or a restarting of our fitness level and mentality. A lot of guys are going to be playing PDL or U-23 so that’s a major point that we try to get across to our guys that if you really want to compete during the fall, you have to keep playing over the summer. A lot more guys are committing to do that this summer. Sean [Davis], Sebastien [Ibeagha], potentially Rob [Dolot], Alex [Sauciuc], Alex Long, Nat Eggleston are staying here this summer.
GoDuke: Any position changes this spring?
JK: Alex Sauciuc has really established himself in a new position this spring as a striker. In particular, in the spring season he’s emerged as a really good target player for us and has been improving by the minute during these last four or five weeks. That’s exciting. He’s definitely a guy that people have to reckon with.