For 80 minutes Syracuse had been winning the game out wide, something it has relied on to win games all season. It’s where the Orange’s speed comes into effect and is one of the main advantages of its 3-5-2 setup, especially when Giona Leibold is on the field.
But with Leibold on the bench, Syracuse lost that edge on the left wing.
Shakur Mohammed was on the ball along the right wing, and he for once didn’t have Leibold sprinting alongside him. Mohammed then cut inside toward the top of the box and played an overlapping Peter Stroud along the right wing into space. Stroud took a first-time cross into the box and found the head of Thor Ulfarsson, who redirected the ball into the top right corner just past SU goalkeeper Lucas Daunhauer’s reach.
Ulfarsson’s header was the eventual difference-maker in Syracuse’s 1-0 (4-4-1, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) loss to No. 6 Duke (6-1, 3-0 ACC) on Saturday. It was an even contest where both teams recorded nine total shots, but a loss in the end that leaves SU winless in its last three games.
“I love my team,” head coach Ian McIntyre said. “I asked our guys to dig deep today, and they did. We are grinding right now, and it sucks right now because we lost to an elite top five team.”
Syracuse was on the front foot in the game’s first 10 minutes. It was a span where the Orange forced Duke to uncomfortably play along the wing, where SU was successful with its immediate pressure, causing Duke to panic and constantly turn the ball over. This drove a Syracuse attack which thrives off its wide play.
Christian Curti settled the ball along the backline and had time to play Leibold. His first touch went a little far in front of him, and Nick Pariano rushed him with a sliding tackle. But Leibold hurdled Pariano’s slide and chipped the ball over him to Noah Singelmann who dummied the ball for Colin Biros. With Leibold continuing his run down the left wing, Biros sent a perfectly timed one-touch pass for Leibold to run on to. While Leibold’s attempted cross was blocked, it gave SU a throw-in, leading to roughly 90 seconds of final third pressure, which ended with Duke booting out a ball in desperation.
That 10-minute span also saw Syracuse’s only two shots of the first half, both on goal. Without any onrushing pressure, Olu Oyegunle looked forward and saw Manel Busquets beginning his run in behind Duke’s backline. Busquets got a foot on the ball first and took it into the box aiming for goal, but his follow through on goal got a chunk of the ground, and the forward fell over as the ball trickled into Grant Farley’s hands.
Just three minutes later, Syracuse applied its high pressure once again in Duke’s half, as Jeorgio Kocevski won a clean standing tackle challenge and took the ball forward. Utilizing his space, he found Curt Calov along the top left corner of the penalty box. Calov took on two Duke defenders before playing it to Biros etched along the top right corner of the box. His shot ricocheted off two Duke defenders before Calov got a foot to the loose ball and softly poked it right to Farley.
But that was the only stretch of offensive momentum Syracuse saw that half.
“We thought at the end of the first half (Duke) was attacking too much on the side,” Busquets said. “That’s why we changed our formation to 3-4-3 to try to stop the wide players because they were creating a lot of danger.”
But the Blue Devils still won most of the aerial battles, which allowed them to play the ball centrally, creating give-and-go’s that dangerously got in behind the Syracuse defense.
Duke’s cross into the box from the left wing went right to Oyegunle’s head, but his clearance was weak, traveling just 10 ten yards to the feet of Duke midfielder Stroud. Stroud turned right and sent a through ball for Felix Barajas, who chased it down to the end line. Barajas’ cross was turned back toward the penalty spot as Singelmann had to poke it out of bounds before Duke got its first point-blank opportunity.
In order to beat Syracuse out wide, Duke began running two players out wide to cope with the Orange’s speed and strength out wide — hence Stroud’s overlapping run on the game-winner.
But many times it led to speed that proved to be too much for Syracuse’s fast wingbacks. In the first half, Mohammed, on his preferred right foot, surprisingly cut to his left around Curti, catching him off guard before sending an outside of the right foot shot just wide of the near post. Minutes later, Mohammed was involved in a similar attacking play along the right wing, as he played a back-and-forth combination play with Miguel Ramirez, forcing Luke Biasi to quickly recover defensively, sprinting back to clear the ball out for a Blue Devils corner.
Duke’s added pressure out wide kept Leibold and Biasi occupied on either side of the field, forcing McIntyre to give them a much-needed rest, he said, which was ultimately why Leibold was off the field for Ulfarsson’s goal.
“Giona (Leibold) worked extremely hard,” McIntyre said. “When you’re playing on a side where they have two guys and you have only one, it becomes physically demanding. We’re asking these guys to go up and down.”
McIntyre put Leibold back on the field immediately following the goal and generated Syracuse’s final push toward a draw. He used his speed to beat Duke down the win once again and with five minutes remaining, fired an outside-of-the-box shot that sailed inches over the crossbar, in what would be Syracuse’s final quality chance of the game.
The post Syracuse unable to generate offense in 1-0 loss to Duke appeared first on The Daily Orange.