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DU Pioneers takes it on the chin, lose to Duke in NCAA tournament play

Blue Devils down Pioneers, 3-1 after Denver compiles an admirable 14-3-5 2022 season record.

Photo credit: University of Denver Athletic Department

The Duke University Blue Devils men’s soccer team opened their Division I NCAA Tournament yesterday by finishing off Denver, 3-1 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke is the 7th seed in this year’s tourney and showed their strength by rushing past the Pioneers in the 2nd-round showdown. It was a heartbreaking loss for Denver who just outplayed the University of San Diego in their opening round.

Freshman Holger Olsson scored Denver’s lone goal in the 34th minute of play. The Swede drifted around Duke’s defensive unit and drew a clear foul in the box. He then confidently walloped a penalty kick into the back of the net. It was sixth goal of the season and very promising career with Denver.

Denver finished with a 14-6 lead in shots including 9-3 on target, however, gave up three painful goals to a very respectful Duke offensive group.

Duke finished 5-0-3 in ACC play, and 11-1-4 overall in regular season play. They are currently ranked 6th in the NCAA RPI table.

After the match-up, Denver’s head coach, Jamie Franks stated, “I’m proud of the team’s effort for the entire year. These guys have faced adversity, done it with integrity, excellence, grit and most of all with passion. This is what separated this group from other teams I’ve had the pleasure to coach in the past. They didn’t waste a day.”

The skipper continued, “Their passion was a full example of doing what they love to do every day. This one hurts cause we played so well, doubling them up at shots on the road. We gave up an early PK, and that’s soccer sometimes. I’m really proud of their effort, and proud to be their coach.”

With the loss, Denver fell to 6-10-1 in NCAA Tournament play all-time.

Last Thursday, the determined Pioneers and nearly 200 fans braved the snow and cold, and withstood mid-twenties temperatures and bitter snow squalls during a 2022 version of Snow Clasico at Pioneers Field. They took on a very talented University of San Diego side their opening game of the tournament.

Standouts included Colorado Rapids Academy grad, goalkeeper Isaac Nehme. He recorded his 10th solo shutout of his freshman season- the third most in a single season in Denver’s Division I history. He made six impressive saves during the overtime match.

Both Rapids Academy alumni, Sam Bassett and Real Soccer product, Ben Smith almost came up big with goals late in the game.

In the 83rd minute of play, Smith nearly scored, however, his strike was stuffed in front of the net. Bassett could have upped Denver’s lead, but his strong shot on goal go just wide of the vertical pipe.

Ultimately, the Pios prevailed and defeated San Diego, 1-0, when Kengo Ohira scored the game winner early in stoppage time. The senior from Tokyo, Japan drilled a blistering shot from within the 18-yard box to finish of the Toreros, who played a man down from the 56th minute until the final whistle.

“Kengo is a really good player who is finding his form again at the right time,” said the complementary head coach, Jamie Franks.

“I thought we used halftime to better ourselves. We changed some things in our system of play. Our plan coming in could have worked but with the conditions, we couldn’t get the ball down and get the rhythm and the tempo that we really wanted to. After going a man-up, it was important to take the right calculated risks, and I thought we did that tonight.”

The Pioneers boast a very young and high potential roster. They will be a force to be reckoned with next year and for several years beyond.

Photo credit: University of Denver Athletic Department