Well that sucked.
If I could use one word to describe the viewing experience from last night's 1-1 draw against the #17 Clemson Tigers, it would be "unsatisfying." This was an extremely unsatisfying game.
Clemson obviously has talent on their roster. They were coming off a huge win over UNC earlier in the week, and you don't really luck into wins against the Heels (although you can apparently luck into draws against them, as UNC is now 0-1-5 in conference). And Clemson had some chances early, but numerous attempts were rebuffed by the efforts of Wake keeper Andrew Harris.
Wake, on the other hand, looked a bit shaky, but began playing their way into the game. Striker Sean Okoli, fresh off a two-goal performance in Tuesday's 2-2 draw against NC State in Raleigh, was able to fend off Clemson defenders for position and play balls off to onrushing midfielders.
The Wake breakthrough came in the 16th minute. Hustle by Ross Tomaselli allowed Luca Gimenez to make a horizontal run at the top of the box. Gimenez's first shot was blocked by a defender at point blank range, but the ball rebounded back to him. After collecting the ball, he was able to loft the ball uncontested into the far netting for a 1-0 Wake lead.
As the first half went on, the game became significantly more disjointed. Clemson looked dangerous on the counterattack, including some poor passes by the Wake midfielders and defenders. The Tigers also became increasingly physical, eventually culminating in a body check behind the play by Austin Bernekel on the Deacs' Jalen Robinson, which caused a near fight as various players had to be separated.
Clemson scored shortly thereafter in the 37th minute. After a horrendously poor decision by the referee, who adjudged that Wake midfielder Jacori Hayes had pushed a Tiger player on a header attempt when no contact had been made, the Tigers played a quick restart over the top while various Deacs were complaining to the referee. From my viewpoint, T.J. Casner looked to be offside by a yard on the restart, but the combination of the quick play caught the linesman out of position and no offsides was given. Casner was able to lob the ball over the on-rushing Harris for the goal, at which point Wake coach Jay Vidovich was lucky not to get red-carded for vociferously protesting the entire sequence (initial foul, quick restart allowed, no offside call). Personally, I have no problem with the quick restart, as Wake scored in a similar way last week against Virginia Tech - it's a heady play and the Wake players need to get back on defense. As stated above, I did think the initial call was horrid, and Casner did look to be offsides.
And after that... not much really happened. Well how can that be, given that there was still 65 minutes of soccer left, you might ask. Wake had problems connecting on balls forward as Okoli got repeatedly manhandled by Tiger defenders, but Wake defenders did a much better job picking up Tiger runs out of the midfield. As a result, neither side looked particularly dangerous, although Wake still generated a few chances via Luca Gimenez, including an egregious play where he didn't pick his head up to see a wide open Jared Watts 8 yards in front of goal. Basically, it was that kind of night for the Deacs.
Oh, and to cement the ref's bad night, Clemson's Thomas McNamara was given a straight red in the second overtime period for a foul that was clearly worthy of a yellow and not much else. This happened with 4 minutes left, and Wake was unable to really press its advantage as Clemson players started flopping around like fish for the remainder of the game.
1) Andrew Harris played a fantastic game in goal. Wake's right back position was in fairly constant disarray all night (more on this just below), and he had a few emergency situations where backpasses or counterattacks put him under pressure. He handled everything that was thrown at him wonderfully; even on the Clemson goal, he did the right thing in coming out to pressure the ball, but was beaten by an extremely good chip by Casner.
2) Jacori Hayes was the best player on the field for most of the match. The diminutive (5-8, 140 pounds) freshman has had trouble getting playing time, but he cemented his place tonight. While it's easy to see that he should get muscled off the ball by players weighing 30-40 pounds more than him, he has a preternatural quickness that allowed him to get toe pokes and quick touches around bigger players. He was phenomenal as a defensive midfielder breaking up attacks, looked good going forward (he had a good chance in the second half on a run that fell to his off foot, resulting in a shot high), and even put in a credible turn as a makeshift right back. The Deacs stand to lose a lot in the midfield next season with the losses of Jared Watts and Ross Tomaselli, but the future is bright between Hayes and fellow freshman Ian Harkes.
3) The defense did a much better job in the second half of tracking runners and communicating. Clemson was able to cause a lot of confusion early by having midfielders interchange with strikers, but Wake pretty much eliminated that in the second half. Tolani Ibikunle in particular played well, especially after he was given a (deserved) yellow card halfway through the second half for cumulative offenses.
1) Whither art thou Jared Watts? Wake's captain and best player had much less of an impact on this game than just about any other I've seen him play. Wake had issues stringing passes through the midfield - normally his forte - and he and Harkes were repeatedly out of position after giving the ball up. If not for Tomaselli putting in a yeoman's effort covering ground and Hayes' brilliance, Clemson might have been able to better pick apart the Wake defense in the second half.
2) I mentioned above the situation at right back. The reason for this is because stalwart Chris Duvall is apparently hurt. I don't know any specifics, but I saw his dad talking with professor Alan Williams and saw the phrase "four weeks" mentioned, so... good luck with the recovery Chris. Philip Parker got the start at right back, but is a converted attacker, and it showed. Parker was pulled at halftime and Hayes shifted back temporarily, before converted center half Rafael Fagundo was given the position for the end of the game and overtime. Given Vidovich's system which places emphasis on the fullbacks getting forward, I think Parker gets another chance (when reinserted as a winger, he acquitted himself somewhat by absolutely torching the Clemson right back on several occasions), but he needs to shore up his defensive positioning and communication or teams will be quick to exploit that area of the defense.
3) I forget which game I recapped where I stated this, but the Deacs' old habit of miscommunication reared its ugly head tonight. Plenty of promising Wake chances fizzled when a Deac would zig while a different Deac would play a pass expecting a zag. This needs to be shored up moving forward (as it was the last time I brought it up, at least temporarily).
Clemson is ranked 17th; Wake is ranked 15th. I'm not sure of the feasibility, but I would absolutely love a rematch against the Tigers in the ACC or NCAA Tournaments. Even with a poor display such as this, Wake was clearly a superior team to me, and I think that would hold up in a replay.
Next up for the Deacs: a mini-road trip to face Akron (now without Caleb Porter, who is the new coach of the Portland Timbers and frontrunner for MLS Coach of the Year) and Maryland (who we beat 4-2 last year in Spry when they were #1 and undefeated; this year's contest will be for first place in the conference), before returning to Spry to face Davidson a week from Tuesday.
1. (tie) Maryland, Notre Dame, and Wake Forest (4-0-3) - 15 points
4. Clemson (3-2-2) - 11 points
5. Boston College (3-2-1) - 10 points
6. Virginia (2-2-3) - 9 points
7. Virginia Tech (1-2-4) - 7 points
8. Syracuse (2-4-0) - 6 points
9. NC State (1-3-3) - 6 points
10. North Carolina (0-1-5) - 5 points (again, this is hilarious... they were ranked #1 in the country 2 weeks ago)
11. Duke (0-3-4) - 4 points
12. Pitt (0-5-1) - 1 point