When looking back on one’s childhood, memories are often are attached to some sort of extreme emotion … fear, pain, excitement, joy, and the like. Other memories are tied to significant milestones or rites of passage as we reach new experiences along the way to adulthood- first kiss, the first thing you bought with your own money, or for me, the first time I was allowed to stay up late.
The year was 1986, and the special occasion that prompted my parents’ generosity was the men’s collegiate soccer national championship from Tacoma, Washington, which kicked-off well after 10PM Eastern time. Duke topped Akron 1-0 that night for the first ever national championship at a school that would become synonymous with winning. Now, when you see Duke dominating the competition in basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, golf, tennis and more, remember that it was Duke soccer that jump-started it all.
I grew up around Duke soccer. My parents tell me stories of taking me as a toddler, and we’d sit on a picnic blanket on the sidelines long before there were bleachers. I remember my awkward middle-school years sitting in the stands in the freezing cold weather back before the Democrats invented global warming. For old-school Duke soccer fans, you’ll also remember the corner on the visitor’s side that sloped downhill so severely that you’d never see a quality corner kick or cross sent in from the left side. This was back when Duke was all about the three-stripes instead of the swoosh, and nobody bitched about bright red diagonal pin stripes on the home soccer jerseys the way people bitch about black accents on our home basketball uniforms these days. Duke soccer was definitely a part of my childhood, and it’s where I not only grew my love for the beautiful game, but where I became so emotionally attached to Duke athletics as well.
Tonight marks the opener for the 2011-12 version of Duke men’s soccer, and it’s going to be a special moment for me because I’ll be taking my 3 year old up to Greensboro to see his first live soccer match. The game kicks off at 8PM at UNC-Greensboro, which is sort of like 10PM in 3 year-old time. Maybe someday he’ll think back about the time his dad let him stay up late to go see the game- who knows. Most importantly, I hope his mom understands that this gives me every right to sleep as late as I want to on Saturday, because if she doesn’t get that, I’m posting her email in the next piece so you can tell her what’s up.
As for the team, I doubt we’ll get to see Duke in the national championship this season, but there’s plenty of reason for excitement around Durham. Head Coach John Kerr, a member of that 1986 team, is entering his fourth season and is looking to improve on his already impressive record of 34 wins through 61 games against the toughest competition in the country. It will be difficult to score against 23rd-ranked Duke as defenders Andrew Wenger and Sebastian Ibeagha are arguably the best defensive duo in the NCAA, and goalkeeper James Belshaw has plenty of experience keeping Duke in tight games. In the opening exhibition match of the season, Belshaw stopped a penalty in the 82nd minute to preserve a 1-1 draw against 17th-ranked Indiana.
Perhaps the most intriguing player to watch on this year’s Duke team is freshman Nick Palodichuk, who was named Parade Magazine’s 2010 national player of the year. Palodichuk is a playmaking midfielder who turned down offers from European clubs to honor his commitment to the Blue Devils, but will surely be moving overseas in the future as his stock grows within the US National Team. I would not expect to see Palodichuk finish his career in Durham as newly appointed national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann is very outspoken about his desire to have his players competing at the highest levels of Europe.
Duke opens the season with a two game road trip away to UNC-Greensboro before traveling south to take on Furman on Monday. The Blue Devil’s first home match is Friday night, September 2nd at 7:30 as Duke hosts UC Santa Barbara as part of the Duke/Nike Classic. Duke will have a national television audience three times this season as September 9th’s clash with Virginia will be on Fox Soccer Channel, the October 14th trip to Maryland will be on ESPN3, and the annual Tobacco Road Derby will be on FSC as well as Duke travels to Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill on Friday, September 30th.
Duke is picked to finish 5th in the ACC in the pre-season polls, which certainly is no embarrassment considering the ACC is far and away the best soccer conference in the NCAA. Should be an interesting year.
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