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Recap: UNC Breaks the Streak, Defeats Wake 2-1 in NCAA Tournament Elite Eight

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Wake sees their national title hopes washed away in the Cary rain again.

NCAA SOCCER: DEC 11 Men’s College Cup National Championship - Wake Forest vs Stanford Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wake’s improbable spring season came to an end today on Field 2 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons were felled 2-1 by the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. This leaves Wake’s final record this season at 13-3-2, while the Tar Heels improve to 9-4-4 and move on to a date with the Marshall Thundering Herd in the College Cup this weekend. It’s an extremely bitter pill for the Deacs to swallow after having the season they did, but they’ll have to pick themselves up and refocus for next year with a young group that now has a whole lot more experience.

The game started with UNC knocking on the door early, with Milo Garvanian’s outswinging corner being nodded on by Santiago Herrera toward Joe Pickering at the back post, but Garrison Tubbs was able to clear it before Pickering could manage a touch. They had another decent attack moments later, with Herrera winning a bad Nico Benalcazar ball in the air back into the middle of the field, playing it to Giovanni Montesdeoca, who returned it to him. Herrera sprung Jonathon Jimenez down the right flank, who flashed it across, with Cole McNally pushing it out, but only to Herrera, who should have done better with his left footed effort which ended up well wide. After a very loose first 5 minutes, however, Wake was able to grow into the game, and in the 10th minute they got on the board first, with Omar Hernandez sending a lovely ball over the defense to Hosei Kijima on the left flank, who flashed it across goal, with it deflecting off of goalkeeper Alec Smir and into Milo Garvanian, leaving it hanging in the air on the goal line for Kyle Holcomb to follow it in and slam it home.

The lead would not last for Wake, as only half a minute later Garvanian sent in a ball to Herrera at the back post that Holland Rula headed back into the center of the penalty area, leaving Montesdeoca all alone to smash it home on the half volley to tie the game back up. It was a poor response by Wake on that restart but they were able to control the flow of the game for most of the remainder of the half. Carolina would end up with a golden chance in the 36th minutes, however, with Garvanian sending a long ball up to Alex Rose, who was able to put it down and turn it inside to Cameron Fischer to spring the counter, finding Jonathon Jimenez down the left flank. Jimenez put in a weak ball but McNally couldn’t handle it at his near post, leaving Akiem Clarke with a huge chance, but a combination of McNally, Rula, and Prince Amponsah kept him out, with Clarke handling the ball on his rebound to give Wake a free kick. After this, the game went into a 45 minute weather delay due to lightning, with the last 7 minutes of the first half being played after, with little of note occurring in those minutes.

Wake went into the half tied at one with the Tar Heels, with the game mostly going as expected, Wake controlling the possession and Carolina creating little moments of havoc when Wake didn’t have the ball. The second half continued in much the same way, with Wake controlling the ball for the first 15-20 minutes, with the best chance coming to Omar Hernandez, as he would send a ball up the flank for David Wrona, who was able to turn it inside and find a lovely ball back to Hernandez on the right side of the box, but Joe Pickering was able to come across and block Hernandez’s effort. Only 7 minutes later, UNC found a goal. Garrison Tubbs was whistled for a somewhat soft foul on the left side of the field. Milo Garvanian lined up to take it, and drove it right into the middle of the wall, but Amponsah and Tubbs were not tight enough together, and the ball squeaked through to Santiago Herrera who was able to rip a vicious left footed effort into the upper 90 to give Carolina the lead. It was a brutal goal for Wake to take and one that coach Muuss will definitely not be happy with; a free kick like that should never find its way through the wall.

From here, Carolina would lock things down for the remainder of the game, settling into a deep block and allowing Wake to have the ball. The Deacs would create only a couple of chances in the remainder of this game, with Kyle Holcomb receiving the ball from Prince Amponsah in the middle of the box off of an Omar Hernandez cross, but his effort was blocked by Tim Schels. Wake would go up a man after Carolina forward Akiem Clarke was subbed back into the game, received one yellow for breaking up a Wake counter, and then received a second for a nasty challenge from behind that could have been a straight red on Takuma Suzuki that caused tempers to flare between the two teams. Ultimately, the final chance would fall to Nico Benalcazar on a cutback with two minutes to go, but his effort from the top of the box through traffic would sail wide, and Carolina would see it out to return to the College Cup after missing the NCAA Tournament altogether last season. It was the first time that a Bobby Muuss Wake team has been defeated by Carolina and their first loss against UNC in 10 years, but the 4th time in 4 tournament meetings that the Deacs have been ousted by the Heels. For Carolina, it feels like fate, as they have won their two national titles in 2001 and 2011, and will be hoping to make it 3 in another year ending in 1.

This one stings. It followed a similar formula to the heartbreaker Wake lost to the Virginia Cavaliers in the College Cup last year, with Wake controlling much of the game and having little to show for it, while the other team scored both of their chances. UNC mustered two shots on target in this matchup, scoring both, and UVA did the same last year, with Daryl Dike burying the only two shots on target the Hoos mustered in that contest. The big difference this year was that Wake had very few chances at all, while in the UVA game they saw a lot of opportunities to knot things back up. UNC executed their gameplan to perfection, and need to be commended for the absolutely professional performance they put in to earn a result against this Wake team that has been so hot this spring. Ultimately, Wake’s inability to create here came back to bite them, as games like this are exactly what teams like Carolina plans for. My man of the match on the Wake side is Hosei Kijima who both was solid this game and helped create what he could on the flanks, including the ball leading to the lone goal for Wake. Overall, I would say the man of the match was Milo Garvanian, who did his job on the back end and created some chances off of his set pieces and long balls forward, but I would say it is hard to single out any Carolina player as being the best in such an exceptional team performance.

It’s a bitter end to one of the most fun seasons Wake has had in recent memory, with an understaffed, inexperienced Wake team nearly finding its way into the College Cup after all the major departures it saw in the fall and injuries it saw in the spring. But soon enough Wake men’s soccer will be restarting their season in the fall, with a young, talented, and now, more experienced squad, bolstered by the returns of Jahlane Forbes, Cristian Escribano, and, hopefully, Aristotle Zarris, as well as the best freshman recruiting class in the nation. Coach Muuss emphasized that this team needed to learn a lot this season, and I think they have, and they will be better for it next year, with a bitter taste in their mouth from a loss like this.