It wasn’t as easy as it may have appeared on paper beforehand, but in a game wrought with momentum shifts and physical play, the Elon University men’s soccer team held off a gritty, yet ultimately overmatched Duke University team 2-1 on Oct. 21 at Rudd Field.
The Phoenix, winners of its last three going into the match, dominated the first half against a Duke side that limped into the game having lost its last four — including a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Notre Dame University four days prior. Yet Elon could not find the breakthrough goal, a source of great frustration for head coach Chris Little and his players.
Finally, eight minutes into the second half, the Phoenix was able to find the goal that, based on its play in the first, seemed likely to come. Senior forward Jason Waterman took a pass 15 yards out at the top of the box with his back to the goal, spun and hit a low rocket just out of Blue Devils junior goalkeeper Wilson Fisher’s outstretched hands to put the Phoenix up 1-0.
Less than two minutes later, though, a resilient Blue Devils side would wrest the momentum back from the Phoenix on a header from close range off a set piece from sophomore forward Brody Huitema that snuck past Phoenix senior goalkeeper Nathan Dean and tied the game at 1-1.
Yet, on this night, the Phoenix would not be denied. In the 61st minute, junior midfielder Miguel Salazar dribbled toward the Blue Devils box after receiving a pass near midfield, and fired a rocket from more than 20 yards out that beat Fisher to his left and gave the Phoenix a 2-1 lead.
“At practice we try to put our shots in the corners,” Salazar said. “And that’s what I tried to do and I hit where I was aiming and placed it well where the goalkeeper couldn’t get to it.”
From there, the Blue Devils pushed everyone forward in a desperate attempt to get the equalizer, including sending everyone but Fisher into the box in the game’s waning minutes to try and push home a goal. Yet through it all, the Phoenix defense remained resolute, and held on to the one-goal lead.
Little credited his team’s resiliency and heart as the reason it was able to regroup and refocus coming off Duke’s backbreaking equalizer to respond with a second goal and escape with a razor-thin victory.
“When you’re playing good teams, sometimes they’re going to bounce back and things are going to happen that you don’t want to happen,” Little said. “But I thought we handled the adversity and responded well.”
The win was Elon’s first over the Blue Devils in 13 tries, a milestone that is beneficial not only for the streak it ended, but also for the recognition it brought.
“It was a great win over a nationally recognized and respected program that is high in the RPI and from one of the best conferences in the nation,” freshman defender Jonathan Coleby said. “It was a boost to our RPI and national rank.”
With the win, the Phoenix improves to 8-4-3 overall, while Duke falls to 5-8-1. The Phoenix will jump back into Colonial Athletic Association play on Sunday, Oct. 26 against James Madison University at Rudd Field.