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ACC Soccer Championship: No. 1 Wake Forest vs. No. 6 Virginia (Sunday, 12 PM, Charleston, SC, ESPNU)

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The Deacs will meet a familiar foe in the Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC Tournament Finals.

NCAA Soccer: Men's College Cup-Stanford vs Wake Forest Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: This article was written by the magnificent Quzybuk, who provides phenomenal soccer analysis every know and then for Blogger So Dear. Huge thanks for his hard work and great information.

Deacs to face Cavaliers in ACC Men’s Soccer Championship

Game: ACC Championship Game

When: Sunday, November 12 at noon

Where: Charleston, SC at MUSC Health Stadium

TV: ESPNU (national)

Let’s do a quick Q&A to get everyone caught up on things:

So how’d the teams get here?

Aside from an early OT loss to Georgia State, Wake has been mostly flawless this year. The only other blemish was a late season draw against Syracuse. The Deacs come into the game with a record of 17-1-1, and a 7-0-1 regular season was good enough to clinch both the top seed in the ACC Tournament and the #1 national ranking heading into this week.

By virtue of being a top seed, Wake got a bye to the quarterfinals and home-field advantage. The quarterfinals yielded a fairly easy 3-0 victory over Virginia Tech, with the Jon Bakero and Ema Twumasi each scoring in the first five minutes. The semifinal proved trickier: a hard-fought 2-1 victory over a top-ten Clemson team marred by a suspect red card to Clemson’s Justin Malou. Omir Fernandez got Wake on the board late in the first-half on a well-struck rebound, and after Clemson equalized, Bakero capitalized on a risky play by Clemson’s goalie Ximo Morales to score an open-net goal with 10 minutes remaining. The win moved Wake up to #1 in the most recent RPI ratings (leapfrogging UNC).

Virginia finished the ACC regular season with a 10-3-3 overall record and a 3-2-3 conference mark, good for the 6 seed in the ACC Tournament. After easing to an opening round 4-0 victory over Boston College, the Cavs dug in their heels and scrapped to a 0-0 draw against 3-seeded Louisville in the quarterfinal, advancing on penalty kicks. Virginia then hosted 7-seeded Notre Dame in the semifinal, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime and then exchanging goals with the Irish early in the second half to claim a 2-1 victory.

What about Virginia? Don’t we always play them in the ACC Tournament?

The Cavaliers are a traditional powerhouse, and have been something of a bully to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament. The teams have met 17 times in ACC Tournament play, with the Cavaliers advancing on 16 of those occasions, most recently in 2013. The teams did not meet in the regular season, although they did play a scrimmage this past spring, with Wake scoring four times in the first half-hour en route to a 5-0 win. Don’t read too much into that result.

Virginia still has coach George Gelnovatch, who in 22 years has led the Cavs to national titles twice (in ’09 and ’14) and twice been named ACC Coach of the Year (in ’96 and ’01). This year’s Virginia team is exceptionally talented, featuring all-ACC players Jean-Christophe Koffi (first-team), Pablo Aguilar (second-team), Jeff Caldwell (second-team), Edward Opoku (second-team), and Sergi Nus (third-team). The selections represent every aspect of the team: Caldwell is the goalie, Nus is a center back, Koffi and Aguilar are central midfielders, and Opoku is a forward.

Virginia is an incredibly balanced team, with a top 35 offense (1.79 goals per game) and a top 30 defense (.834 goals against per game). Opoku and Aguilar lead the attack with 8 goals/4 assists and 7 goals/4 assists, respectively.

The Cavs play a 3-4-3 formation, which will be very similar to the one Clemson and North Carolina play. As is true for any team playing a 3-4-3, the space available to opposing teams changes drastically from a standard “back 4” lineup. Look for Wake to have more attacking space available on the flanks, and look for UVA to play through the middle more when they have the ball. The Cavs will likely look to replicate their effort from the Louisville game, sitting deep and letting Wake have possession, trying to clog the central midfield with bodies, and then trying to hit on quick counterattacks to nick a goal. Virginia would likely be very happy if this were to go to overtime and/or penalties.

So what’s new about the Wake team? I really liked that graph you made for the Clemson/UNC games.

No graph this time, although there are definitely some changes. Wake still plays some variant of a 4-3-3, although coach Bobby Muuss seems to be favoring a more aggressing midfield personnel of late. Instead of playing two holding midfielders in Brad Dunwell and Joey Dezart, Steven Echavarria has replaced Dezart to move Dunwell into the pure holding role and to have a more aggressive box-to-box midfielder (Echavarria) in lieu of a second defensive-minded one. If you watched the Deacs last year, this will look familiar, with Echavarria playing the role that Ian Harkes played and with Brandon Servania and Bruno Lapa in the vacancy left by Jacori Hayes.

Another big change is on the back line, where Kevin Politz, the ACC Defender of the Year, has been out injured (and likely will be so for the remainder of the season). Muuss has usually used redshirt freshman Michael Deshields in a straight swap for Politz, but against Clemson on Wednesday Muuss opted for a little tactical wrinkle: moving Deshields out wide in place of Eddie Folds, and starting freshman Mark McKenzie at center back. It remains to be seen which set of options Muuss will use, as Deshields has been quite good as a replacement and McKenzie had a very strong game Wednesday as well in his first start.

Offensively, things look the same, although Omir Fernandez (who has come on strong in the latter half of the year) went down from a nasty-looking collision in the second half against Clemson. Hopefully he’s okay and will be able to play.

What about Jon Bakero? Is he still amazing?

Mmmmmyep.

He ranks tied for first in the country in assists and tied for seventh in goals. At this point, it seems very likely that Wake will have its second consecutive Mac Hermann winner.

With that being said, don’t sleep on the rest of the Wake attack. Twumasi was first-team all-ACC, Luis Argudo was third-team, and Fernandez made the all-freshman team. All of them have at least six goals and five assists on the year. And Servania (also all-freshman) still ranks tied for fourth nationally in assists as well. Wake as a team ranks second nationally in scoring (2.89 goals per game) and ninth nationally in defense (.563 goals allowed per game).

So Wake is the better team, right?

Yes, and likely will be in every game for the remainder of the year. Wake may even be able to sustain a loss against Virginia and still get the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced Monday. (Indiana is the only other team that has a reasonable claim to be on Wake’s level. And there’s always the specter of Stanford looming as well…)

It’s been no small task replacing a national player of the year and two other first-team all-Americans from last year’s team, but somehow this Wake team has had a comparable or even better season. Hopefully they’ll be able to match last year’s team in winning the ACC Tournament and one-up last year’s team in the NCAAs.

Prediction: Wake 2, Virginia 0