West coast, best coast – at least it looked that way when the Demon Deacons took on back-to-back top 10 ranked California challengers in UCLA and Cal and wound up on the losing side. Both Pac-12 teams showed just why they’re serious title contenders for the 2014 College Cup, with dominating performances while Wake, despite their #11 ranking, showed why this season is going to require a bit of a learning curve to get the youth-based squad up to full speed.
Their first test against the #4 UCLA Bruins started out with a bang as sophomore midfielder Ian Harkes, one of the key pieces on this Wake squad, connected on two quick pass from junior forward Michael Gamble and sophomore midfielder Jacori Hayes to score his second career goal and put the Deacs up 1-0 in the 12th minute. But just three minutes later, UCLA would equalize on a shot from Andrew Tusaazemajja, before going ahead 2-1 on a cross from Larry Ndjock. In the second half, the Deacons had a number of chances but couldn’t convert on anything, ultimately falling 3-1 to the Bruins in their first regular season contest.
Despite a somewhat underwhelming performance from Hermann watch list player Leo Stolz, the Bruins looked like the title contenders they are, particularly on the back line as the defense would collapse around keeper Earl Edwards to limit Wake’s scoring chances. A number of Deacs showed flashes of speed and technical prowess, particularly freshman midfielder Jon Bakero, Harkes, Hayes and Gamble, but the team as a whole lacked a sense of cohesion particularly on forward runs. The starting lineup of a 4-6-1 was unable to present a real threat on either side of the pitch, while the switch to a more conventional shape after the half allowed for a stronger offensive presence. Still, it wasn’t enough for Wake as they lost to the Bruins for the fist time since 1990.
Looking to rebound and pick up a win during the opening weekend, the Deacs hosted #7 Cal on Sunday, August 31 in the last of the west coast tests. Striking first were the Golden Bears, when Connor Hallisey nailed a shot from Max Oldham and Seth Casiple in the 15th. A little over 10 minutes later it would be Hallisey again playing with the Wake defense as he assisted on Christian Thierjung’s shot to make it 2-0 for Cal. Gamble had several chances in the first half but just couldn’t connect for the Deacs as they went scoreless through 45.
Just two minutes into the second half, the Bears jumped to a 3-0 lead as Hallisey and Dylan Serrano set up Stefano Bonomo, putting a damper on the Deacs’ hopes of making a comeback. Freshman Hank Gauger got Wake on the board in the 63rd thanks to an assist from Hayes, his second of 2014, bringing the Deacs to within two. But that surge wouldn’t last as Max Oldham capitalized on a defensive turnover in a two-on-one situation to score Cal’s fourth goal of the game and set the final scoreline at 4-1 for the Golden Bears, dropping Wake to 0-2-0.
Both the Deacs and the Bears showed their youth on the backline, with Cal looking to find replacements for Christian Dean and Steve Birnbaum who both went in the top 3 of the 2014 MLS Draft. Trevor Haberkorn, a Furman transfer, helped anchor the Cal defense in a way that let keeper Justin Taillole face far less danger than he could have. On the other half of the field, Wake’s defense struggled to keep their shape and allowed the Golden Bears to make a number of runs, resulting in eight shots on goal in 12 attempts – while the Deacs could only manage seven shots on goal in 18 tries. Ferrell kept Wake’s chance alive with four great saves but ultimately was caught out of place several times without his backline to help out. Freshman right back Kris Reaves showed impressive speed running box to box but the rest of the backline struggled to make an impact.
With two tough losses behind them, it’s easy to point out the negatives of this Wake squad – and there definitely are a few. The defense struggled to keep their shape and left keeper Ferrell all alone a number of times, while on the offensive side, the Deacs lack a true target man, and sending Gamble up top as the lone forward has yet to result in a strong attacking presence. As the team gets more experience under their belts, attacking midfielders like Bakero, Hayden Partain and Hunter Bandy look to be able to threaten opposing defenses and create more scoring chances.
It’s a long season that lies ahead for the Deacs and there is plenty of time for this team to learn to gel and figure out just which player fits in where. But the road ahead isn’t about to get any easier as Wake will face #8 Connecticut and Cleveland State this coming weekend. There’s no time like the present for the young players to grow up – and grow up fast.