NEWTON, Mass. -- A women’s soccer team can’t chase perfection in the ACC without being able to extend itself for 90 minutes. It also can’t get there without seizing the single moment of opportunity.
No. 7 Boston College can take solace in again passing the former test. No. 4 Duke remains unbeaten in the league because it did both in a 1-0 win against the Eagles at Newton Soccer Field.
Two of the brightest offensive stars in college soccer were absent Thursday because of national-team obligations, but first place in the nation’s best conference was still up for grabs. For two teams that had allowed a combined eight goals in 25 games entering the night, the result was a joint display of aggressive defense from end line to end line with plenty of shots but few chances.
It was a game designed for a 0-0 draw, right up to the point at which Duke’s Kaitlyn Kerr ensured it wasn’t.
Kerr snuck between Boston College defenders and deftly tapped home a cross from Gilda Doria in the 68th minute. It was the briefest of defensive lapses, but it was all the Blue Devils needed, a 1-0 win knocking the Eagles (9-1-2 overall, 4-1-0 ACC) from the ranks of the unbeaten and giving the visitors their first ever win in the conference’s northernmost stop.
“It was a great goal -- great timing of the run, great service and then Kaitlyn splitting the two defenders and finishing it,” Duke coach Robbie Church said. “At this level, it’s going to be tight. [It comes down to] who is going to make the play, either an offensive play or a great defensive play. And we were fortunate to make that.”
Duke nearly claimed a lead much earlier in the contest, a clearance off the line from Boston College defender Alaina Beyar in the fourth minute erasing a header from Kerr that appeared headed for the back of the net. But that chance was an outlier. For much of the first half, indeed much of the game’s first 60 minutes, the Blue Devils struggled to find their footing -- literally on a slick artificial surface that forced some players to change cleats at halftime and figuratively against constant pressure from every line of Boston College’s 4-3-3 formation.
“Everyone was just so excited for the game, I don’t think our coaches even had to say anything about high pressure,” Boston College senior defender Alyssa Pember said of the strategy. “We just went out there and wanted to keep them on their toes. We wanted to go after them because we knew that’s exactly what we needed to do. They came out there and did the same thing. Every time our backs got the ball, they kept pressuring us right away. For me, when someone is running at you, it causes you to think about things, you get a little nervous.”
Pember’s presence was a particularly notable silver lining on the night. The senior co-captain has been slowed all season by an ankle injury and missed the first three games of ACC play entirely. Her return to the starting lineup not only gave Boston College another quality defender to slow Duke freshman standout Kelly Cobb in the middle of the field but allowed redshirt freshman Rachel Davitt to shift from the back line to her natural position of forward. On a night when Boston College was without All-American midfielder Kristie Mewis because of an under-23 United States national team camp in California (Duke standout forward Mollie Pathman was at the same camp), Davitt's services were needed in the attack.
“I thought Rachel was our most dangerous forward tonight,” Boston College coach Alison Foley said. “Rachel can hold the ball for us. I think in terms of a forward that can hold and turn in that central forward role, she’s the best on the team. It was important today because taking [Mewis] out of the lineup. we needed more depth to rotate up top. ...
“The other forwards don’t really hold the ball for us, so she really does make us multi-dimensional by giving us that true target forward personality.”
Davitt payed an integral role in many of Boston College’s best moments of possession, earning free kicks by turning flat-footed defenders or setting up at the top of the 18-yard box with her back to goal and distributing to Gibby Wagner for a shot from close range. The problem was that there were too few of those moments from anyone. The Eagles finished with a 16-11 advantage in shots, but few of those efforts forced Duke goalkeeper Tara Campbell to break a sweat. Players like Wagner, Davitt, Stephanie Wirth and Stephanie McCaffrey again showed the work rate up top to push opponents to the ropes.
Now they need to find a consistent knockout punch.
“I thought our buildup was good, but we took some low percentage shots -- 25 yards out -- especially against Tara Campbell,” Foley said. “I mean, these keepers typically will not let a shot in from 25, 30 yards out. So I thought we could have just held onto it; I thought we needed a final pass, slip a final pass in, as opposed to shooting.”
It was a night when a lot of effort went for naught, in part because Duke made the play it needed to make when the opportunity presented itself, and in part because Boston College never did.
It was life in the upper reaches of the ACC. And with a 4-1-0 record at the halfway point of conference play, Boston College has delivered more disappointment than it has absorbed.
None of which made it easier to watch Duke celebrate a win that moves it one step closer to a potential ACC title and leaves Boston College to regroup for a crucial two-game road trip to Florida next week.
“Defensively, I thought the whole game we had played well,” Pember said. “It’s just, you know, they get that one chance and finish it. It was a nice goal.
“It just stinks.”