Matthew Theodros & Michael O’Grady | Staff Writers
After a four-game span where the Duquesne men’s soccer team was averaging over two goals per game, the offense sputtered to just a single in the two games last week. It was enough for a narrow victory over UMass, but ended with their first shutout of the season in a loss to Xavier.
Forward Ask Ekeland may have scored the lone goal in the 1-0 victory on Saturday night at Rooney Field, but he knew the offense wasn’t the reason the Dukes prevailed against the Minutemen.
“To be fair, it was a grind,” Ekeland said, “I didn’t feel like we played our best game, but I gotta give credit to the back three, and especially Zoltan in goal.”
Indeed, the Dukes pulled out the win thanks mostly to the performance of goalkeeper Zoltan Nagy and the defense in front of him. Despite being on the wrong end of a 26-5 shot difference and conceding 11 corner kicks, Duquesne’s defense bent but did not break. Nagy’s five saves and the back line’s seven blocked shots ensured a second clean sheet in a row as the Dukes climbed to 4-1-1.
Right from kickoff, the ball seemed to be flying every which way as the A-10 foes got used to each other. For both teams, it was their first taste this year of conference play, and each looked energized in the early going. Over time, however, the ball shifted to the Duquesne side of the field.
“UMass definitely came to play,” Duquesne Head Coach Chase Brooks emphasized. “They were aggressive, big. We knew what they were gonna do.”
Although the Dukes defense answered the bell, they caught a break six minutes in when Minutemen forward Nick Zielonka fired a grounded cross off the outside post. Duquesne’s response was quick and effective. In the twelfth minute, forward Jayden Da made an inspired run past midfield, sliced through two enclosing defenders, and sent a pass Ekeland’s way which he promptly tapped in the net for his fourth goal of the season and the Duquesne lead.
“I just had to finish, it was so easy for me,” said Ekeland, who hadn’t scored since netting a hat trick on August 27th. “I’m privileged to have as good of teammates as I have, and for me it’s just to finish it off.”
From there, the Dukes defense tested their limits against a relentless UMass push. There was some danger after the goal when UMass midfielder Jack Englebert let go a rocket from just outside the box, but it was blocked back to him, and after an equally powerful second try, the ball was cleared to safety.
At halftime, Duquesne introduced several alumni at midfield, some of whom the current team were familiar with.
“I give the alums credit, because they showed out in force and put a lot of energy into us,” Brooks said. “It carried over to the bench and carried over to the guys on the field.”
The second half was much like the first but the Dukes held strong. The defense shut down an imposing fast break, and much later, Nagy made his statement save of the game with a soaring leap to deny a strike from UMass defender Pierre de la Croix-Vaubois. When the final whistle blew, several Dukes fell to the ground exhausted, their white jerseys blotched with sweat.
Brooks commended the effort postgame, but insisted on raising it on both sides of the ball.
“The defense literally gave us everything tonight, they stayed focused on the next action, and that’s what it takes sometimes,” he said. “Now, what we’ve gotta do is make sure those guys understand that that’s the standard, and now pick the offense back up.”
“I would give all credit to the defense today,” Ekeland agreed. “The game wasn’t the best, but we grinded it out, showed the group mentality, and that’s what matters in the end.”
The victory continued a five-game unbeaten streak for the Dukes but the hot streak came to an end with a 2-0 loss on Tuesday to the Xavier. Brooks attributed the loss to fatigue and a heavy workload from the competitive match three days prior.
“Coming off a battle of an Atlantic-10 Conference game on Saturday night we saw that the energy was a little low,” Coach Brooks said. “But ultimately there are no excuses, we were not good enough.”
The Musketeers dominated from start to finish controlling the ball for the majority of the contest, although their goals came rapidfire.
Jerome Jolly scored a long-distance goal 22 minutes into the game.
Three minutes later, after a jumbled possession where the ball was bouncing between players, Duquesne’s Sam Bennett put the ball in his own net giving Xavier a 2-0 lead.
With their backs against the wall, Duquesne still could not jump start their offense.
In the second half, the Dukes offense stagnated and was outshot 8-3. They were not able to get any shots on goal in the second half, and only one in the whole contest.
This was Duquesne’s first scoreless match since the Atlantic-10 conference semifinal against Loyola Chicago in 2022. They will travel to face the Ramblers on Saturday.
Brooks spoke about the key matchup and how they plan on bouncing back from the heartbreaking tournament loss.
“The intensity has to be there from start to finish,” Brooks said. “We lacked that today and even in that second half at UMass. The intensity wasn’t there, and those are all moments we have to learn from and recognize what has made us successful.”
On the defensive end, DU was able to neutralize Xavier for the majority of the game. Nagy totaled 4 saves in the contest after putting together back-to-back shutouts in his past two games.
Forward Jayden Da spoke about future contests and emphasized that nothing else is needed except focusing on the fundamentals that will bring them back to winning ways.
“I don’t think we need to adjust much in our style of play,” Da said. “Continuing to bring our confidence back up and reminding ourselves what has gotten us to all our wins.”