DURHAM, N.C.—Duke senior striker Daniele Proch converted a penalty kick in the 75th minute to lift the 10th-ranked Blue Devils to a 2-1 victory over CSU Bakersfield in the finale of the 2019 John Rennie Nike Invitational. Graduate student transfer Hassan Pinto garnered the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
“We’re a good team,” said head coach John Kerr. “We have a lot of quality and experience. We have a lot of depth, maybe not in numbers, but a lot of quality depth. We’re just getting started and have a lot to improve on, but some really good signs.”
Undefeated on the weekend after defeating Furman, 1-0, Friday night, Duke (2-0-0) captured its fourth consecutive John Rennie Invitational title and eighth since 2008. Joining Pinto on the All-Tournament team were Sergi Nus, Will Pulisic and Daniele Proch.
“I think this is the first individual award I’ve gotten since middle school,” said Pinto. “It’s awesome. I’m going to hang it up in my room.”
Always looking for a fast start, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third minute off a header from senior forward Colby Agu. Classmate Max Moser provided the service from the right flank, sending in a perfect ball to just inside the six-yard box where Agu finished with a textbook header.
The goal was Agu’s second of his career and the first since his rookie season and seemingly put Duke in control of the match.
CSU Bakersfield (0-2-0) answered seven minutes later after a fortuitous deflection off a Duke defender to even the score. Going against the run of play a Roadrunner midfielder tried to send the ball in behind the defense and had his pass glance off Duke’s last defender to Niklas Korber who calmly touched the ball into the box and beat Duke goalkeeper Will Pulisic.
With the game all square at 1-1, CSU Bakersfield bunkered in for the final 35 minutes of the half to stifle Duke’s attack. Senior Brandon Williamson had a firecracker of a shot from 18 yards denied by a diving save from CSUB keeper Rodrigo Sarmiento.
That Williamson look was Duke’s best chance in those final 35 minutes as the Blue Devils were whistled for offside on two set pieces from Moser in that span.
Credit CSUB for sticking to its game plan and executing it well as the Blue Devils continued to struggle to find the open space in the second half. Daniele Proch had a good look that skipped wide and Agu had another head that went just high, but, overall, the Roadrunners continuously thwarted the Blue Devils attacks from the wings and did not allow dangerous balls into the box until Aedan Stanley got loose in the 75th minute.
“We had a lot of possession, but we have to improve our movement and our ideas and our execution,” Kerr said. “When we did get in good spots I thought the movement to get there was excellent, but the last ball to finish was off and we weren’t able to get that second goal.”
Stanley, running along the left side all game, finally got into the penalty area and drew a foul just inside the left side of the box to give Duke a penalty kick. Proch, who immediately stepped up to the spot, calmly put it away with 15:45 left on the clock.
Duke allowed CSUB just four shots with Pulisic making saves on three of them, including one late in the half that would have equalized. The Blue Devils had 12 shots with four coming on frame.
The Blue Devils return to action with another two-game set next weekend. Duke welcomes Princeton, Sept. 6 at 4 p.m., on ACC Network and Harvard that Sunday, Sept. 8 at 4 p.m.