Despite it being an exhibition game, an aggressive Duquesne Men’s Soccer side defended Rooney Field with a noteworthy 2-0 victory over a West Virginia team that enters the upcoming season ranked sixth in the country.
In the exhibition, the sideline started to gain energy in the second of three 30-minute periods and that only grew with each positive play.
Though the team was clearly excited following the victory, surrounded by one of the largest crowds the team had seen in years, that feeling quickly was replaced.
“At the end of the day we haven’t accomplished any of our goals yet,” senior captain Domenic Nascimben said following the triumph. “This is a steppingstone for where we want to be come November. We want to be A-10 champions. The fact that we have such a healthy turnout is awesome and it might bring more fans in. We have that winning goal in mind and will keep pushing on. We hope that in November it pays off.”
A season after it finished runners up in the Atlantic 10 Championship, Duquesne once again is fighting for respect following a seventh-place preseason prediction as voted upon by the conference’s coaches.
That being said, both Nate Dragisich and Maxi Hopfer were named to the A-10’s 12-man Preseason All-Conference Team, primarily based on last year’s play.
“Last season was beautiful but that doesn’t get us anywhere right now,” Hopfer stated. “It was what it was and we live in the now. We have to start at zero and we’re a new team. We haven’t won anything. We can take the confidence in each other, but we start winning games again and get it running.”
After a 7-0-1 mark at home last season, teams were not as willing to face Duquesne at Rooney Field in the 2022 which is evidenced by the Dukes taking to the road for seven of their nine non-conference games this year, the first of which commences Thursday afternoon at Michigan.
Duquesne had a small taste of road action during the preseason with a draw at Detroit Mercy after the WVU game.
It is no secret that Duquesne has no issues finding shots, ranking 15th nationally in shots and fifth in shots on goal, but defensive inconsistencies led the Dukes to conceding the most goals in A-10 play.
Duquesne was especially encouraged in that regard in the WVU game as players aggressively dove for the ball and fought for possession with none of the team’s three goalkeepers seriously tested in net.
Despite the departure of several players, most notably Ryan Landry, Jaime Borjas and Eric Zech, Duquesne coach Chase Brooks teased following his team’s spring campaign that his team is as deep as it has probably been.
This was only further expressed in the WVU exhibition when Duquesne played three different starting 11s and there was little-to-no drop off, with the clear belief instilled each time the team steps foot on the pitch.
Nascimben has been through his share of highs and lows as a Duke but did not hesitate to state that everyone on the team is ready to go, which he has never before experienced.
The chemistry has also come along quickly, something that multiple players were quick to credit Hopfer and Landry, who has remained part of the team, assisting the coaching staff.
Now the task is on Brooks to pick which 18 players will dress for Michigan.
“I joked with the guys after (the WVU contest) that we have 35 starters and they are making my life very difficult,” said Brooks. “That’s a good problem to have. Our training sessions are extremely high quality. We played 11s against each other a couple of nights ago and it was one of the best games on Rooney Field that I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see where it goes. Can we keep this going? At some point an 11 is picked so what is our mentality if you’re not in that 11? If you keep driving in the same direction, this could be a special season. If not there’s a potential of derailment.”
Even for those who do not earn the nod, Brooks believes it is just as crucial for everyone on the roster to understand his role and buy in with the understanding that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Upon talking to several individuals on the team, making the playoffs is no longer a good enough expectation for Duquesne. Nascimben hopes that the Dukes can host a playoff game that was earned based on regular-season play.
He believes that he is a part of a special team that has the potential of putting something special together.
“I really want to help put this school’s name on the map as well when it comes to soccer,” he said. “I want to leave the program in a better place than I found it. I’m very confident we’re in the right direction.”
Even after refocusing his team after an exhibition victory, Brooks did admit that it is important to be together but also not peak too soon on the field.
With team chemistry already at a high mark, Brooks believes that the standard is clearer than he would have expected at this point in the season.
“We’re in a good spot,” Brooks stated. “We can’t dip, we have to have the right mentality no matter what we’re doing. If we continue building this is just the start and who knows how high that slope can go?”