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10-Man Dukes Persevere Past RMU in “Cross-Tahn” Rivalry

Duquesne men's soccer vs. Robert Morris men's soccer, Sept. 14, 2023
Photo courtesy Ed Thompson

PITTSBURGH — Despite being slapped on the wrist, much to the chagrin of head coach Chase Brooks, the Duquesne men’s soccer team handed an “L” to a Robert Morris side in historic form.

The Colonials (3-1-2, 1-0 Horizon League) tilted the pitch at Rooney Field in the second half, but the Dukes (3-1-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10), playing down a man for the final 45:04, earned a gritty goal from junior forward and leading scorer Jayden Da in the 71st minute for a 1-0 win Wednesday night.

Duquesne prevailed for the first time on home turf in 2023, having drawn Bowling Green, 2-2, Aug. 31 in their only other home contest. The one-goal margin over their suburban counterparts marked the 16th time in the all-time series, dating back to 1995, that the match was decided by one goal.

“We’re a really resilient group,” said Da, unofficially two off the NCAA Division I goal-scoring lead. “As [Coach Brooks] told us, if there’s any team in the country that can come back from playing down a man, we were resilient enough to do it.

“We all believed in each other, and ultimately, it came down to us.”

RMU’s men’s and women’s teams had gone the entire first month of the school’s fall semester without a loss, a first for the university, posting a combined 9-0-4 record entering the match.

First-year head coach Jonathan Potter lined up Robert Morris in his usual 3-4-3. A yellow card shown to Anthony DiFalco, the second-year Duke and former Franklin Regional star, for an overzealous challenge against noted scoring threat Anass Hadran just two minutes in set the tone for a chippy affair.

In the 37th minute, not long after the Colonials’ Kyler Miller, another Westmoreland County product (Greensburg C.C.), went into the book for a hard tackle on Jack Emanuel, British rookie Ben Pleavin was put on notice for shoving Mats Bramer from behind after a Duquesne turnover at midfield.

A hard collision between the two in the final seconds of the first half led to another foul on a visibly upset Pleavin, who was promptly sent off with a second yellow for unsporting behavior.

“In a game like this, against a cross-town rival, you’ve got to be absolutely certain there’s intent, and to me, there was no intent. A player who’s closing down space slips, and, I get it, but, have a conversation, and let’s try to keep eleven on the field,” Brooks said of the referee’s decision. “I give our guys credit. They battled through the adversity, they did what we asked them to do, and I give them all the credit in the world.”

Ultimately, the Colonials built up a 57% to 43% edge in possession, whereas the Dukes, forced to adjust their typical 3-5-2 formation, had held the territorial advantage prior to Pleavin’s folly. However, Robert Morris’ execution in the final third left much to be desired.

“I thought we weathered the storm early, and then we really found our way in the middle of the first half. We didn’t need to change a bunch of stuff, even with a guy going off. We just couldn’t create that important first goal,” said Potter.

Their best chance came in the 52nd minute via clinical ball movement, led by Chase Gilley. The senior forward hit John Paul Mbuthia with a short-and-sweet pass into the box, but a diving Zoltan Nagy, coming well off his line, made one of his four saves from point blank, en route to the junior keeper’s first clean sheet of the season.

Tate Mohney drew a yellow card on RMU graduate defender Nolan Hutter deep on the left wing in the 68th, and the resulting free kick to Grant McIntosh, from an awkward angle, missed its target.

Moments later, the Dukes earned another free restart in the middle of the attacking third. Redshirt freshman midfielder Jaxon Ervin’s effort found its way to Da in a crowded six-yard box, and Da caught the Colonials ball-watching by tucking his fifth goal of the year through that crowd and inside the near post.

“I wanted to cause a little ruckus in the midfield,” Da said. “Another teammate got a head on it, and I just dove for the ball.”

Ervin, a West Allegheny graduate, tied his WPIAL colleague, DiFalco, for the team lead with his second assist.

“We knew it was going to be an ugly game once we went down to ten men,” said Brooks. “It was just whether or not we had it in us to get that result, which we all felt we did.”

The Gilley twins immediately tried to will RMU back into the game themselves. Chase Gilley, sprinting down the right wing, tried to cross for Miller in front of goal, but Nagy did well to cut out the ball.

In the 78th minute, after Duquesne’s dangerous Norwegian midfielder, Ask Ekeland, had struck the crossbar with his 20-yard hit from the left elbow, Logan Gilley led the RMU counter, dribbling through two defenders, but his shot missed the far post.

“It’s extremely disappointing to lose a game where we thought we were in control of the match,” Potter said. “Tonight just wasn’t our night.”

Robert Morris resumes Horizon League play Saturday afternoon with a 2:00 p.m. EDT kickoff against IUPUI at the North Athletic Complex.

Duquesne opens its own conference slate Saturday, with a 7:00 p.m. EDT kickoff at home against A-10 rival Massachusetts.

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