KOSKINEN STADIUM/ DURHAM AND FETZER FIELD/ CHAPEL HIILL—Man, it was a beautiful day for soccer, with bright light, russet leaves and balmy temperatures. (Among other things, it was a convenient supporting exhibit for those of us who wonder why the American professional season can’t be played from fall to spring, as it is in Europe.) On this day, which happened to be wall-to-wall top-notch soccer located near and far, we saw top-ranked (or third-ranked) Duke women rally to beat Ohio State 2-1, and top-ranked UNC rally to defeat Coastal Carolina 3-2.
The day would culminate with the biggest event in MLS soccer, the MLS Cup, which crowns the world champion of American soccer, and which promised to be the swan song of David Beckham, OBE. But on American televisions at the beginning of this longest day of soccer was Chelsea—Liverpool, duking it out at Stamford Bridge. For this writer, the day began with a Sunday morning pickup game, followed by a replay viewing of Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund in a clash of Germany’s two best teams. (For the record, the LA Galaxy took the MLS Cup 1-0 and visiting Dortmund eked out a 1-0 victory over the Bavarians. Chelsea-Liverpool? Better Google it. I haven’t seen it yet.)
But then it was 1 p.m. and we were at Koskinen Stadium to watch the Duke women’s team, of which we’d rhapsodized earlier in the weekend. The game didn’t disappoint, although the Blue Devils’ organization and energy seemed to suffer from having just 40 hours rest after their 3-1 victory over Georgia Friday night.
Ohio State came out in an attacking 4-4-2, showing a far braver face than Georgia, which had played seven in the back (something like a 5-2-2-1). And despite Duke having almost complete possession, the Buckeyes managed to swipe the first goal, completely against the run of play when TK TK found Paige Maxwell making a run behind the Duke defenders.
Duke coach Robbie Church responded in a surprising fashion: He pulled all three of his starting forwards, Mollie Pathman, Laura Weinberg and Kelly Cobb, for the remainder of the half, leaving the team on the field to hold the line while they rested.
Eight minutes into the second half, with the refreshed starters back on the field, the dividends arrived as Kelly Cobb, after whiffing on a high ball in the box, recovered and scored. The Buckeyes had little to offer the Duke defense, while Cobb continued to menace on the other end, deploying an effective array of feints and turns as she ran at her markers.
The winner was a thing of beauty. In the 79th minute, Nicole Lipp, a defensive midfielder and long kick specialist, lined up for a free kick at midfield. She sent a 50-yard ball into the six-yard-box, where Duke’s redoubtable playmaker Kaitlyn Kerr met the ball with a falling-away header. The ball went in at the far post and the Blue Devils had punched their ticket to the round of eight—although the Buckeyes did muster a last-gasp attack that was snuffed out.
The Blue Devils weren’t at their best today, but still outshot the Buckeyes 20-2. They look like the real deal: strong and smart in the back, steady and inventive in the middle and fast and deadly up top. The team is nearly Italianate: I found myself imagining Duke as a combination AC-Inter team, with Cobb as Ibrahimovich, Kerr as Sneijder and Anasi as Zanetti…
Anyway, Inter-AC Duke plays Friday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m., at San Siro-Koskinen Stadium. The unlucky opponent will be Long Beach State, which presumably will be spending its Thanksgiving on a 767 over Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma…
Later in the afternoon, after a hurried errand or two, we arrived on the UNC campus as basketball fans were departing the Dean Dome following a victory over Mississippi Valley State. Several intramural and pickup soccer games were in progress on the artificial pitches adjacent to Fetzer Field. We greeted an illustrious former UNC star on the way in.
The opponent for top-ranked UNC were the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. Boasting the most prolific offense in the nation, CCU’s attack featured one Ashton Bennett, the nation’s leading goal scorer.
Bennett didn’t have many opportunities to show his quality against the suffocating pressure of UNC’s midfield and central defense. But in the