PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh women’s soccer team failed to pick up a single point during its inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference last year.
That sequence extended to 14 games Friday when the Panthers (4-5-0, 0-1-0 ACC) fell to Duke (5-4-0, 1-0-0 ACC) in their regular-season opener at Ambrose Urbanic Field. Christina Gibbons, Imani Dorsey and Toni Payne each struck for the visitors in the opening 20 minutes to set the Blue Devils on course for a 3-0 win.
Kelly Cobb was the star performer for Duke with two goals and two assists in a 6-3 win over Pittsburgh when the teams met in Durham, N.C. last October. The 5-foot-10-inch senior from Alaska again tormented the Panthers with her speed, dribbling and incisive passing.
Cobb had broken the deadlock after 142 seconds of the previous meeting. Pitt head coach Greg Miller made a tactical adjustment to try to keep the pace and movement of Duke’s front four at bay. Captain Jackie Poucel began as a sweeper behind three defenders with freshman midfielder Emma Pozzulo lying deep in a midfield diamond.
The change worked to some degree. It took 176 seconds before Pittsburgh’s defense was breached this time around. Cobb took possession on the right flank, accelerated inside Arielle Fernandez and slipped a perfectly measured reverse ball to Dorsey inside the penalty box. The freshman zipped a low cutback across the 6-yard box for Gibbons to smash into the roof of the net.
Duke doubled its lead on eight minutes when the forwards again combined to devastating effect. Cobb drifted in off the left wing to vacate the space created by Gibbons dropping deep. The former United States U-20 World Cup winner pierced Pittsburgh’s disorganized rearguard with a cute ball into the path of Dorsey’s diagonal run. Dorsey steered her first-time shot across Panthers goalkeeper Taylor Francis and into the far corner of the net.
Miller’s defensive tinkering was quickly ditched in favor of Pittsburgh’s familiar flat back four as they continued to be pulled around by Duke’s movement. Dorsey dropped off the front line, tempting her marker Courtney Coate to follow and allowing Gibbons charged forward from deep. Cobb and Payne switched wings and took turns to drift into central areas, and sophomore midfielder Rebecca Quinn added a fifth spoke to Duke’s attack whenever the initial momentum was lost.
Quinn beat Siobhan McDonough at the edge of Pitt’s penalty area on 18 minutes with a quick drag back and dip of the shoulder before finding Cobb open on the left corner of the box. Cobb made a rare misjudgment by taking on an early shot from a tough angle that Francis gathered comfortably.
Duke had scored its six goals in last year’s meeting within the opening 40 minutes. The Blue Devils stayed on course to match that feat with a third strike on 20 minutes. Alabama native Payne seemed to have lost out in a race to Fernandez as the pair chased Gibbons’ long ball over the left side of the Panthers defense. A lucky break put Payne back in possession close to the end line. She skipped back inside her opponent before rifling an emphatic left-foot finish into the far top corner.
Pittsburgh’s midfield was lost in its attempts to provide cover for the back line and Duke kept pouring forward. The Panthers should have been wise to Quinn’s trick by now, but the Toronto native pulled it out again on 23 minutes to set up Dorsey on the left of the penalty area. She was denied a second goal by the width of the far post.
Some relief arrived for the Panthers midway through the first half when Duke head coach Robbie Church withdrew his top attackers. The deluge of shots on Pitt’s goal slowed. Tackles were being won higher up the field, and confidence began to grow within the home side. That set up an entertaining second half as the Panthers battled to get on the scoreboard.
Roosa Arvas and Riliegh McHugh brought saves out of Duke goalkeeper Meghan Thomas with one Arvas effort being pushed onto the post. The last action of the game saw McHugh racing into the penalty box with the stadium announcer counting down the final few seconds. McHugh’s rushed shot sailed the wrong side of the post.
Consecutive road games at ACC opponents Boston College, Syracuse and North Carolina State lie ahead for the Panthers before they return home to face Notre Dame on Oct. 9.
Duke hops over to nearby Raleigh Thursday for a local derby with North Carolina State.
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