Something about the John Rennie Nike Classic brings out the goal scorer in Duke’s Zach Mathers.
The senior midfielder has scored two goals in each of his first three seasons, and two years ago both of them came in the season-opening tournament named for Duke’s former coach.
Mathers struck again Sunday against DePaul, scoring on a great individual effort to lift Duke to a 1-0 victory over the Blue Demons. Following a 3-2 win Friday over Saint Mary’s, veteran-laden Duke (2-0) is off to a strong start to the season.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Duke coach John Kerr admitted. “It wasn’t easy. (DePaul) had a great game plan. They defended well and counterattacked. … We need to keep getting wins on our ledger and keep moving forward. We’re happy to be 2-0.”
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The 2-0 start is the first for the Blue Devils since 2009, but it didn’t earn them the tournament championship. That went to Elon, which followed up a 4-0 rout of DePaul on Friday with a 1-0 win over Saint Mary’s on Sunday. Eduardo Alvarez, a senior midfielder who scored Elon’s goal Sunday, was named the tournament MVP.
After a scoreless first half in which the Blue Devils outshot DePaul 6-2 and forced Blue Demons goalkeeper Quentin Low to make two of his three saves – the first on a Mathers drive from 18 yards following some nifty footwork in the left side of the penalty area – Duke needed only 44 seconds of the second half to gain the upper hand.
Macario Hing-Glover sent in a cross for Duke from the right side, which the Blue Demons cleared, but Mathers picked off the short clearance about 25 yards out.
He dribbled forward to the penalty area, cut to his left and found an opening in the defense 15 yards out, beating Low to his near side with a low blast.
“I really wanted our team to step up,” Mathers said. “Sometimes as a captain you have to do that. I had my opening, and it worked out for me.”
“Great individual effort,” Kerr said of Mathers’ goal. “He really took it upon himself to create something. He took one extra touch and hit it with his left foot. It was a great goal for him.”
Mathers said he hesitated as if to shoot before taking that extra touch.
“It looked like there were a lot of guys in front of me,” he said. “I was hoping if I took one more step, they would step off me.”
After the goal the Blue Devils appeared satisfied to sit back and defend, which they did well enough to keep DePaul at bay even though the Blue Demons outshot them 6-5 in the second half. Grad student goalkeeper Wilson Fisher made both of his saves in the second half to register his second career shutout.
Kerr said the goal might have come too quickly.
“I told them (at halftime) we just needed to pick up our game,” Kerr said. “After the goal we took our foot off the pedal and went back to that lethargy again.”
He added, “Our energy level wasn’t as high as Friday. That’s understandable (playing) 36 hours later.”