The Deacs finished their fall season with a 7-2 mark and the No. 3 ranking in the country, bowing out to UVA in the ACC Tournament after losing a large portion of their squad to coronavirus and injury. It was an unfortunate end to a fall season that, in my opinion, should have ended with the Deacs bringing home some silverware as ACC Champions. After seeing all nine games this season, here are my takeaways:
- Breakout Seasons All Around:
This Wake team lost a few players to graduation and the professional ranks this season and lost a few more to injury as well, but new players were able to step into the starting roles excellently. The most prominent of these was freshman Garrison Tubbs, who stepped into a starting role at center back after Michael DeShields went out with a neck injury in the exhibition game versus Pittsburgh, forming a strong partnership with Nico Benalcazar, who also had a strong second season in Winston-Salem. Fellow freshman Cristian Escribano also secured a starting role in the defense at right back, taking over for Alistair Johnston who left for Nashville SC of MLS, putting in some solid shifts, only getting better as the season wore on. Two players that were already in the program also had some under-the-radar breakout seasons, with Omar Hernandez and Holland Rula both having quietly excellent seasons. Rula has taken the starting spot at left back with both hands after fighting for time with Eddie Folds last year and battling freshman Jahlane Forbes for the spot at the beginning of this season. He has shown himself to be a very capable two way player and put in at least a decent performance in every game in the fall season. Omar Hernandez arrived at Wake as the High School Player of the Year last season, but couldn’t find himself a starting spot or a regular position, but he’s now shown that he can be a solid contributor on a national title contender, filling in both in the middle of the field and on the wings, looking solid at both spots. He was involved in a few big moments this year, assisting a game winner against UNC and scoring one against Duke, and has also done things well that don’t show up on the scoresheet, filling in the midfield pivot for Isaiah Parente and showing he has ability at that position as well. If these players continue their form and stay healthy, this will be one of the deepest in the country and have a great chance at making a run for the national title.
- Attacking Trident:
Wake is a team that is very reliant on finishing their players taking the few big chances they create, and their front three has done just that. Kyle Holcomb, Calvin Harris, and Machop Chol make up one of the country’s most deadly front lines, combining for 12 goals and 5 assists between them, making up two thirds of Wake’s total scoring output. Holcomb has shown himself to be a ruthless finisher, excluding a couple of hiccups in the NC State game, and has proven he is more than just a presser up top. Machop Chol has continued to produce at a high level after a very productive 2019 season, including a thunderbolt against Clemson in South Carolina that got the Deacs back in striking distance. Calvin Harris has taken the step up from his freshman season, refining his game in the summer and coming back looking like a more polished version of the raw offensive prospect he was last season. He’s cut down on some of his wasteful tendencies and become a much better finisher. If Chol returns in the spring, Wake’s joint-third ranked offense in the country will likely remain as dominant as it was in the fall.
- Under Lock and Key:
Wake not only had the country’s third best offense, but also its fourth best defense, which is really a testament to how well the team was able to adapt to injuries, as three of the starters on defense this season did not start in last year’s opener versus UCF, with Benalcazar and Andrew Pannenberg being the only two that started in that game. Nico Benalcazar has stepped up in a huge way this season, becoming a much more solid defensively than he was last year, and Garrison Tubbs looks like he could be one of college soccer’s best defenders for the next three years. Escribano and Rula have shown their defensive and offensive talents after taking over their starting spots, as have their backups Hosei Kijima, Koby Carr, and Jahlane Forbes, with Wake looking like they have incredible fullback depth going into the spring. Andrew Pannenberg has also proven a capable shot stopper, as he’s made several huge saves this year, although he has made a few mistakes this year that are hard to overlook. Overall though, this Wake defense looks a lot more solid than it did last year.
- What Happens Now?
Wake will have to deal with the same problem that many programs will this season: how many players return in the spring? Most if not all of Wake soccer’s senior class will graduate this semester, and some underclassmen may also leave to pursue opportunities in the professional game. Michael DeShields, Justin McMaster, Machop Chol, Holland Rula, Kyle McCurley, and Tyrell Moore are all members of the senior class and will consider whether or not to return, while prized prospects like Calvin Harris will have to consider whether they want to enter the MLS SuperDraft or explore other professional opportunities. But even if they all return, there is a bigger question: where do they fit? Justin McMaster and Michael DeShields (along with junior Aristotle Zarris) have missed the entirety of this season with injuries after getting significant minutes last season. Who sits so that they can play? Do you insert DeShields back into a starting role at center back after the fall seasons Tubbs and Benalcazar have had? Do you reduce the minutes that Harris and Chol are getting to allow for Zarris and McMaster to play? The start of the spring season will be interesting, as it will likely tell who will get time and who will lose minutes as a result of these players returning.
- No More Bruno
Although it is a problem that Wake were aware they would have since they end of last season, it doesn’t appear that they have discovered an answer for it. Bruno Lapa was a preseason pick for the 2019 Hermann Award for college soccer’s best player, and showed it throughout the year, dictating the game from that number ten role, with most of the play running through him. He now plays for the Birmingham Legion in the USL Championship, and Wake are still looking for his replacement. Jake Swallen appears to have emerged as the starter in Lapa’s old spot, but, stylistically, he is not the same player that Lapa was in that role, as he is a much more direct player that prefers to play facing the goal, and quickly. He has registered 3 assists this season, which is solid, but Bruno Lapa last season did so much more for the team than what popped up on the scoresheet, dragging defenders out and creating and finding space all over the field. Freshman Oscar Sears has also gotten some time at that spot as well, but really hasn’t fully adjusted to the college game, although he has shown some flashes of potential. Omar Hernandez has also played at this spot but it doesn’t appear that Muuss sees him playing at this position going forward. It’s hard to find a guy like Bruno Lapa, and Wake has seen that first hand.
All in all, the Deacs had a spectacular fall season that ended in disappointing circumstances. They have a lot of questions to answer going into the spring season, but, with a mostly healthy roster, they are still going to be one of the nation’s best teams and make a push for the national title.