A Look at the 2014 Duquesne Dukes FC

Around this time last year, I got my first look at a Chase Brooks led squad as they faced Carnegie Mellon in Squirrel Hill. That day, the team had three weeks to master their new coaches technical system with only a handful having been recruited to play in it. While I thought they’d still carry the day on talent alone, they struggled falling behind 1-0 in he first half before ultimately losing 3-2. Not only did the Tartans win, but they really controlled the match. I thought it would be a long season for the Dukes, but by the time the A-10 tournament rolled around, they looked like they could play against anyone in the conference.

I thought I’d use some of my tweets from earlier to help write this piece.

Truly, he Dukes dominated CMU the way one might expect a solid D-I program to defeat even a strong lower division team. Duquesne won 4-0 and to the those still new to soccer, that is the equivalent of a 35 – 3 win in football or a 102 – 60 point win in basketball. It’s the kind of scoreline you would expect when Italy plays Estonia or when Chelsea faces West Brom. In the roughly fifty minutes, I got to watch the Tartans manged one, maybe two solid build ups while the Dukes peppered the box with crosses relentlessly. Many drifted into territory easily handled by the keeper, but the point remains. Not only did the Dukes dominate the final score, they controlled the pace of the game as well.

Brooks’ squad looks to have grown into the technical style he wants them to play. Backline looked sturdy and I was especially impressed with the improvement of Bednik Hellstroem. He picked his times to get forward better and didn’t seem out of position defensively on the all important left flank. Nigel Seidu seemed like the safety valve the central defense lacked last season after Colin Phillips and Thomas de Villardi moved forward. The Dukes relied far less on back passes to Sam Frymier to get the ball out of the defensive third. Nick DiSomma dominated in the air and right back Cody West kept it simple. Even the less experienced defense of the second half looked strong. On a side note, the bear wearing 23 has a name and it’s Nick Anderson.

The ball movement was deliberate and done so deliberately. The Dukes were willing to make three passes to take ten yards of field and repeat the process to gain ten more. Through balls happened but were rare before the Dukes entered the attacking third. While it was not the most exciting style to watch it was effective in the sense that the Dukes got chance after chance while their possession was as stifling as their defense. Phillips and Carter Sell had strong matches as did Chris Alescio who scored the opening goal on the opposite side of the field from his assigned right flank.

If the first half / second half line up split was truly first team / second team, then the Dukes have a ton of reliable depth. I already mentioned the second half back line that included last year’s starting right back Matt Essig, but it also included Alex Healion who started last season as a top central midfield option. Much like Hellstroem, Healion looked more in control. George Poppas, whose grandfather came in from Indiana to take in the game, was the only North American based freshman to see the field for the Dukes. He looked like a very strong fit.

Then there is this:

…but I had to play baseball instead.

***

The Dukes are not a finished product and while I come across as fairly optimistic above, they still need to improve in a few areas. The defense is ahead of the offense which seemed too slow and at times, as risk averse as someone who grew up in The Depression. If the midfielders develop the awareness and creativity to recognize when to attack, this team could become very dangerous.

Duquesne finished 6th in the conference last year. I’d actually be surprised if they don’t crack the top four this season. They return virtually the same unit as last year and that unit has another year under this demanding system under their belt. I think Duquense might still be a year or two away from looking like a serious contender preseason, but if they improve as much from the beginning of the season to the end as they did in 2013,  it wouldn’t surprise me if they shocked the conference winning it all this year.

 

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