In college soccer, all games count the same - but when it comes to conference games, it feels like some count just a little bit more. For the Wake Forest men's soccer team, opening the ACC season against NC State was far from an easy task - or a clean one - but they kept their play largely in line with the rulebook to defeat the Wolfpack 2-1 in their first conference matchup of 2014.
Wake struck first, with sophomore Hayden Partain heading a shot home from freshman Kris Reaves in the 16th to end a 243 minute scoreless streak for the Wolfpack. Partain has shown tremendous growth since the 2013 season when he occasionally featured as a bit player in the midfield. This year, he's become a hard-nosed, fast-wheeling midfielder who seems to always find in a good spot on the right side, and despite being a sophomore with limited career minutes, has found himself stepping into a sort of leadership role. "It’s exciting to get my first goal and help lead the team and put us on the board and help us get ahead early," Partain said. "Ultimately I feel like our whole team is a leader; when we all do good it pushes each other to another level so I’m excited about that and what we can do all season."
Just 45 seconds into the second half, reigning ACC player of the week Michael Gamble found himself on the scoresheet as he beat NC State keeper Alex McCauley with an effortless looking shot to make it 2-0 Wake Forest. It is almost impossible to point out just how key Gamble is to Wake's success this season. After starting the season as the lone striker, he's hit his stride having a partner up top - be it Tane Gent or Hank Gauger - and has scored two goals and added four assists through five games this season. As long as he continues to stay healthy, there is seemingly no limit to the levels to which Gamble can climb.
Without a doubt, the one defining feature to the matchup against NC State was the incredible amount of physicality. Sophomore Jared Odenbeck, who draws comparisons with former Deac Jared Watts, picked up a yellow for a hard challenge and looked in danger to earn his second - and the subsequent red. "It was an ACC match, teams are going to come out and look for three points whether they’re on the road or at home," Odenbeck said on the physicality. "It’s always going to be a battle in the ACC. We just have to figure out how to deal with it and keep playing our game."
But Odenbeck, along with junior Ricky Greensfelder who also picked up a yellow, paled in comparison to NC State's play, which saw four players pick up a yellow card, and two of those (junior Reed Norton and sophomore Michael Bajza) get seconds, giving them red cards and forcing the Wolfpack to play with just nine men on the field. Only the tremendous play of McCauley kept NC State from falling into a bigger hole and it was unlucky that the Deacs didn't add anymore.
In a down and dirty matchup, Wake found a way to keep their hands relatively clean and pick up their first conference victory of 2014. With the 4-4-2 lineup having been the tactic of choice in the last few matches, it looks as if the Demon Deacons have found a starting 11 they're happy with and have certainly enjoyed the results that have followed. A rocky 0-2 start to the season looks like a thing of the past as they've won their last three and have looked much more like a cohesive unit that can really threaten in the offensive third without sacrificing the backfield.
Next up, the Deacs will hit the road for two games; first, at Davidson on Tuesday, September 16 at 7 pm. After that, they'll head to ACC foe Virginia Tech on Friday, September 19, with kickoff set for 8:30 pm.