A week in college soccer terms is a long time – especially early on in the year, when most weekends are jam-packed with games. For the Wake Forest men’s soccer team, a week was just enough time to turn around a tough 0-2 start to the 2014 season and pick up back-to-back 2-1 and 4-1 wins against UConn and Cleveland State. Switching to a more conventional 4-4-2 lineup with a diamond in the midfield allowed the Deacs to increase the tempo of their offensive effort and finally get those first victories under their belts.
The matchup against #21 UConn on Friday, Sept. 5 saw the Deacs take a different approach tactically on both sides of the field – sophomore Hunter Bandy slotted in at left back to bring extra speed going coast-to-coast and junior Michael Gamble had a partner up top as he was joined by Tane Gent, and later Hank Gauger, on the attack. Falling down 0-1 just three minutes in off a UConn shot by Cyle Larin from the top of the box, the Deacs regrouped and kept up that offensive push that had been lacking in previous efforts. Ten minutes before the half, sophomore Jared Odenbeck would pull Wake even 1-1, burying a cross from Gamble.
Both squads were unable to break away in the second half as the Deacs outshot the Huskies 17-12, with 8-7 in Shots on Goal. Just three minutes into overtime, it was junior Ricky Greensfelder who gave Wake the 2-1 win by notching his first goal of 2014 off an assist from Gamble. A dramatic overtime win marked the Demon Deacons’ first victory of the season, with both sides of the field clicking together, thanks in large part to a shift in tactics. With the defense led by keeper Alec Ferrell, who notched six saves, taking care of business on the defensive third, the two-pronged forward attack, supported by a cohesive midfield, showed that the significant youth could be used for good in bringing enthusiasm and speed to the game.
A quick turnaround had the Deacs hosting Cleveland State on Sunday, Sept. 7, with that same 4-4-2 lineup taking the field in hopes of getting Wake to .500 before conference play. This time, it was the offense who kept punching away at the Cleveland State defense, before finally breaking through when Gamble scored in a penalty kick in the 32nd, his first of the season. Recording 24 total shots while holding the Vikings to just four, the Deacs came roaring out in the second half with Gauger sending home a shot from Gamble and Ian Harkes to make it 2-0.
Cleveland State equalized on a perfectly timed goal from Sergio Manesio that saw Ferrell helpless to stop it. Still leading but pushing on the upper half of the field, junior Ricky Greenselder, helped by Jacori Hayes, added an insurance goal for the Deacs in the 81st and all but guaranteed a Wake win. Sealing the deal as the clock wound down to just five minutes left was Hayes, who scored on a one-on-one to give Wake an impressive 4-1 victory.
With conference play just days away on Friday, Sept. 12 against NC State, the Deacs have no time to stop and celebrate their successes so far. Kickoff is set for 7 pm and Wake will come out swinging to make their presence felt in the ACC.