No. 2 Virginia women’s soccer returns to the pitch Friday night in Durham, N.C., where they will take on No. 5 Duke. Last time out, the Cavaliers (9-1-1, 2-1 ACC) defeated ACC foe Louisville 2-0 at home with two late goals from graduate student forward Haley Hopkins and junior midfielder Alexis Theoret. Friday night’s match, however, will be a step up in competition as they face a tough-minded Blue Devil (8-2, 3-0 ACC) squad who can control possession and get shots on goal.
Offensively, the Blue Devils are led by sophomore forward Michelle Cooper with nine goals and five assists. Every part of the offense is run through her whether it is designed plays for her to get shots on goal, or using her as a decoy to free up teammates for open shots. The Cavaliers will have to contain Cooper for a chance to win.
However, Cooper is not Duke’s only offensive threat. Graduate student midfielder Mackenzie Pluck has controlled games from the middle of the field all season. She has posted an impressive three goals and six assists, but a lot of her impact on the game isn’t measured on the stat sheet, as she spaces the field well and creates opportunities for her offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils are led by senior goalkeeper Ruthie Jones, who has only allowed nine goals and 16 saves through 10 games this season. Virginia will have to pass the ball well Friday night in order to give Hopkins and junior midfielder Lia Godfrey opportunities to beat Jones in the cage.
Both the Blue Devils’ and Cavaliers’ respective offenses have been potent this year. The Cavaliers are averaging 2.9 goals per game and have had 80 corner kicks through 11 games. Duke is averaging 2.5 goals per game and notching 51 percent of its shots on goal.
The key to this game may be the goalkeeping. Senior goalkeeper Cayla White has had an outstanding season for the Cavaliers, recording an 85 percent save rate and allowing only four goals. It will be a challenge for the Blue Devils to beat White. However, Cooper will give the Virginia defense a remarkable test, as she is arguably the most talented offensive player it has competed against all season.
The contest will also be a good measuring stick for Virginia following its first loss of the season last week to No. 16 Notre Dame. A bounce-back win against Louisville Sunday afternoon was a positive sign, but the Cavaliers will want to flex their muscles Friday and show why they deserve to be in the conversation among the nation’s best teams.
This matchup is the marquee game this weekend in women’s soccer. The top-five matchup is sure to draw a massive crowd to Durham. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.