After watching the Clemson women’s soccer team battle visiting Duke to a scoreless double-overtime draw, Coach Eddie Radwanski was pleased in particular with a first half performance that saw the Tigers exhibit an air of confidence as they controlled both tempo and possession.
“You could see the confidence in our team in that first half in the way we started the game and dictated the tempo and dominated possession,” said Radwanski. “We were confident and were zipping the ball around, and I think Duke was a little bit surprised by that, and weren’t expecting Clemson to do that. That was a great psychological statement on our team’s part.”
In a typical ACC tilt, clear-cut scoring chances were at a premium, and much of the game was fought in midfield, where the Tigers had the early upper-hand. In fact, the reward almost came 9 minutes in. Tabitha Padgett delivered a cross from the left that Paige Reckert couldn’t connect with in the box, and the loose ball broke short to the right for Jenna Polonsky. Polonsky netted an 8-yard roller to the left of Duke keeper Meghan Thomas, but was judged offside, which nullified the goal.
“I was extremely proud of our group,” said Radwanski. “The first half was pulsating as far as how we played. We dominated the half. Our tempo and possession were good, and to really dictate it to a team like Duke felt to us like a good step. Obviously we would have liked to have scored. Well, we did score, and it was maybe a little controversial, but the game goes on.”
In the second half, it was less a matter of the Tigers fading out of the match, than of Duke stepping its own game up by playing more directly.
“As the game wore on they tended to be a little more direct, and that was probably a good tactic on their part,” said Radwanski. “They’ve got players up-front that they want to feed the ball to, and obviously at times it caused some issues. Playing direct is difficult to deal with at times, so it was a good move on their part.
“But Duke wasn’t going to lie down. They were going to compete, and, remember, this team was in the national championship game just two seasons ago. Let’s give them some credit. Their record in the ACC is not a fair justification of their team. I’ve watched them play, and I actually thought they could have beaten (top-ranked) Virginia. So I know I wasn’t overlooking them or underestimating them, and I know our team wasn’t.”
The Tigers survived a second half scare when keeper Kailen Sheridan saved but spilled a point-blank shot by Duke’s Kaitlyn Kerr, and Kim DeCesare banged the rebound sitter off the crossbar. The woodwork came to Sheridan’s assistance again in both overtime periods: first when Laura Weinberg’s shot from the left side of the area beat Sheridan at full-stretch but ricocheted untouched and back across the face of goal after catching the inside of the back-post; and later when Weinberg slid a shot underneath Sheridan in the six-yard box, and the ball pinged half-speed off the left post.
The bottom-line for Sheridan is that she kept a clean sheet in an ACC match for the second game in a row.
“I wouldn’t say I would be too proud of my performance tonight, but we did get a shutout so I’m happy with that,” said Sheridan. “I think our team started out really strong in the first half, and that we dominated the first half, for sure. It probably went a little downhill in the second half, but I feel like we’re definitely taking a step in the right direction if we can dominate a quality team like Duke.”
In an odd bit of statistical symmetry, each team finished with 10 shots, 2 corner kicks, 2 saves, and 7 fouls. The Tigers moved to 7-4-4 overall, and 4-3-2 in the ACC, while the Blue devils slipped to 5-6-4, and 2-4-3.
“It was just a good ACC game,” said Radwanski. “Duke’s a good team, and they’re not going to sit-back, and we knew at some point that they’re going to have a little bit of the ball. They have dangerous players up-front, a couple of kids who are All-ACC players. So it was a good battle, and we got a point, and protected our home-surface. We keep taking steps forward, and our kids felt like they grew-up a little bit tonight.”