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Men’s Soccer: No. 2 Wake Forest to take on No. 6 Clemson and No. 5 North Carolina

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Wake Forest will play the two toughest games of its season tomorrow night and next Friday night, and we have the preview for both games!

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

Editor’s Note: These articles were written by frequent commenter and habitual Blogger So Dear soccer analyst Quzybuk. Simply put, this is an outstanding preview and we are incredibly thankful and lucky to have this sort of knowledge from one of our own.

The Wake Forest men’s soccer team will take on Clemson on Friday night at Spry Stadium; the following Friday, in their next game, the Deacs will face North Carolina in Cary.

Wake is currently ranked #2, holding a record of 9-1-0 overall and a perfect 3-0-0 mark in the ACC; the Tigers and Heels are ranked #6 and #5, respectively, in the latest United Soccer Coaches Poll.

These are the biggest games of the regular season for Wake.

While the Deacs have played other ranked teams, Clemson and UNC are the other perennial powerhouses in the conference. Last year, UNC won the Coastal Division and advanced to the College Cup; Clemson finished third in the Atlantic but made the ACC Tournament final while also being seeded third nationally in the NCAA Tournament.

Clemson is currently 8-1-0, and 2-1-0 in the ACC (having dropped a headscratcher in Raleigh two weeks ago). UNC is currently 9-1-0, and is the only other undefeated team in the conference, at 3-0-0.

Like I said, these are the biggest games of the regular season for Wake.

To help those of you who have been focusing more on other areas, I’ve put together a brief primer for you in preparation for these games:

Personnel

Wake lost the national Player of the Year (Harkes), two other first-team all-Americans (Hayes and goalie Alec Ferrell), as well as an additional starter (Hunter Bandy) and rotation attacker (Hayden Partain).

Servania has stepped in admirably for Hayes, and Andreu Cases-Mundet actually played significant time in goal last year as Ferrell battled injuries, including a start in the national championship game. As mentioned, Dunwell has taken on more of the Harkes role, while DeZart (who played sparingly last year) has taken on an increased role as the holding midfielder. Sophomore Eddie Folds has replaced the Hunter Bandy/Alex Knox combination at left back. Elsewhere, new additions have mainly been used to provide depth. Freshmen seeing playing time include Michael Deshields (our star recruit last year who redshirted, and will see time at outside back), Omir Fernandez (a quick wide attacker with very tricky dribbling skills), Mark McKenzie (a solid backup who can play anywhere along the backline), and Justin McMaster (a blazing fast, strong forward who can play anywhere along the front three).

Given who he’s lost, a good set of results in these two games likely puts Bobby Muuss in prime position for his third straight ACC Coach of the Year award.

Tactics

The diagram shows the usual formation that Wake plays. Starters are the top name by each position, with usual substitutes listed below them. Arrows indicate usual movement patterns. Now it’s time for some soccer nerd talk!

Wake under Muuss (and under his predecessor Jay Vidovich) largely plays some variation of the classic 4-3-3 alignment: a back line of two outside backs and two center backs, three central midfielders, and three attacking players (usually with two spread wide). For the past two years, the central midfield trio consisted of a pure holding midfielder (Brad Dunwell) whose responsibility is to cut off long passes forward and to work with the center backs to retain possession, a box-to-box midfielder (Ian Harkes) who is the engine of the team in terms of running both forward and backwards as well as side-to-side, and an attacking midfielder (Jacori Hayes) responsible for creating chances for the three attackers and adding a secondary goal-scoring option centrally.

With Harkes and Hayes gone, Muuss has shifted the formation ever so slightly. Dunwell has shifted over into the Harkes role, while sophomore Joey DeZart has taken the more defensive spot. However, Dunwell plays significantly deeper than Harkes, which means that most of the time Wake is playing with two deeper-lying midfielders playing in front of the back line; this in turn allows more flexibility for the outside backs (usually Logan Gdula and Eddie Folds) to provide overlapping support along the flanks, which then allows the wide attacking players to make runs into the center. It’s not a coincidence that Argudo and Twumasi are two of the top three goal-scorers this year, with 7 and 5 respectively.

The shift towards a more defensive pairing has also freed up the attacking midfielder to wreak more havoc on opposing defenses, and Servania actually has the second-most assists in the country this year, with 8.

Lastly, the change in formation has also solidified the Wake transition defense, which is important as Wake tends to hold the ball for long periods of time. The Deacs have allowed 7 goals so far this year, but only 3 have been from open play. Given the quality in attack for Clemson and UNC, having a solid defensive foundation in the midfield will be incredibly important to getting positive results, especially with regards to marking UNC’s Cam Lindley, who is one of the best attacking players in the country.

In the event that Wake lets in an early goal, look for Muuss to change the formation in a way that more closely mirrors the two previous years’ (with one holding midfielder and two more offensive midfielders; look for Steven Echevarria to play centrally if this happens).

What to Expect

On offense, lots of possession and lots of shots. Wake is one of the most potent teams in the country offensively, ranking second nationally in shots per game (17.9), shots on goal per game (8.5), and goals per game (2.8). I mentioned that Servania ranks second nationally with 8 assists; Bakero actually leads the nation in that category with 10. Wake is attacking more through the flanks this year than in years past, so expect Bakero and Servania to try and find space wide, and then for the outside attackers (Twumasi, Argudo, Fernandez, Echevarria, McMaster) to make more central runs than in years past. Also, look for Bakero to randomly pop up in dangerous spots in the attacking third; he is a pain and a half to mark for opposing center backs, as he is incredibly tricky with the ball and incredibly smart with his runs off the ball.

Defensively, expect Wake to remain compact in the central parts of the field, likely looking to cede space on the opposite flank to have more numbers centrally. The outside attackers will track back to provide support to the outside backs, and the central midfielders will clog passing lanes around the top of the box. The major causes for concern are crosses and set pieces: for all the merits of this team, Wake is once again on the smaller side, and half of the non-penalty kick goals allowed this year have come off corner or free kicks. Clemson particularly has had success through these mechanisms: of the three goals allowed to Clemson in the last three games, one was a direct free kick, one was a finish off a cross, and one was a penalty kick resulting from a cross. It should be noted that while Wake is second in the country in goals per game, the team they trail is Carolina (2.9), which is one of the few teams in the country that can arguably claim to match Wake’s offensive firepower.

Also, expect physicality. Wake is a smaller team, and lots of teams try to play a very physical game to take Wake out of its possession and tempo. Clemson in particular is fond of doing this, although both teams are technical and fast enough to cause problems without needing to resort to overly physical play (see: Stanford in last year’s national championship game).

Predictions

Wake 2, Clemson 0

UNC 1, Wake 1