In a tightly contested affair at Spry, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team defeated the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers 3-2 in their NCAA Tournament opener. The Deacs moved to 12-2-2 with this win and moved on to the Sweet Sixteen, while the Chanticleers sank to their third straight defeat and will finish their season at 9-5-2 as they look ahead to life in the Conference USA, moving out of the Sun Belt. The Deacs will face the 12-4-2 Kentucky Wildcats out of the CUSA in the Sweet Sixteen. Before we look ahead to that game, however, let’s take a look back at what was a thriller at Spry on Sunday
It was clear that Wake was going to have some issues on set pieces against Coastal, with the Chanticleers being an extremely dominant team in the air and Wake being a team that lacks height. Coastal almost capitalized on this matchup immediately, with Marcelo Lage getting his head to a Marcello Jones corner to nod it down to the feet of Emile Rzepecki, who just couldn’t direct an effort on goal from an odd angle near the end line. The Deacs took control of the game soon after, with a lovely ball from Jake Swallen cutting through the Coastal defense, but Jahlane Forbes seemed to be in two minds as his effort dragged wide of the goal and ahead of Kyle Holcomb and David Wrona who were ahead of their defenders in the center of the box.
A goal would come to the Deacs soon after in the 15th minute when Wake would execute on a lethal counter attack after winning the ball on a Coastal Carolina goal kick, with Nico Benalcazar’s hopeful left-footed clearance up the field was settled by David Wrona, who played it inside to Omar Hernandez, who played it forward to Takuma Suzuki. Suzuki found Forbes on the left flank going forward, where he would play it back inside to Hernandez. Kasper Skraep was late to get out to Hernandez, and the lefty let loose a 30 yard curler that had keeper Tor Saunders yelling at his back line before it hit the twine. Another gorgeous goal for Hernandez, who seems to be compiling a collection of them.
Seven minutes later, Wake would double their lead, and again Forbes would be involved. Jake Swallen would win a loose ball after Prince Amponsah lost control of it, directing it to Hernandez, who found Forbes in space on the left side. He sent a dangerous ball across that Coastal captain Nicholas Itopolous couldn’t reach, leaving Kasper Skraep to make a clearance attempt, and watch in horror as his scuffed clearance nestled into the side netting. It wasn’t the prettiest goal Wake has scored this season, but as the saying goes, they all count for one. This goal would put the Deacs up a pair going into the half, and looking to be firmly in control.
They should have gone up a third only 15 seconds into the second half, when, off the kickoff, Hosei Kijima found himself in behind the defense from a long ball from Garrison Tubbs. He cut it back for Omar Hernandez in the center of the box who inexplicably missed the net entirely on his left foot. It looked to become a critical miss as well, when only a minute later a long free kick from Itopolous caused chaos in the Wake box, forcing Prince Amponsah into a scuffed clearance on his weaker right foot to set up Kasper Skraep for a lefty effort through traffic just beyond the reach of Cole McNally coming across goal. It seemed like the momentum had shifted at that point, and Wake would have to fight against the tide for the remainder of the game with two huge moments for Coastal in as many minutes. But somehow the Deacs regained full control only minutes later when Takuma Suzuki won the ball from a Marcelo Lage throw in and got it to Omar Hernandez, who gave it to Kijima to run up the right flank. He passed it back inside to Kyle Holcomb who gave it back to Hernandez, who did a pirouette around Itopolous at the top of the box before curling it into the bottom corner to reestablish a two goal lead. A rollercoaster 5 minutes would end with Coastal almost immediately responding, with Cole McNally coming out of his net and not being able to punch the ball away over Connor Pugh, with it falling to Repetto whose effort rattled the crossbar.
From this point, Wake tried to put it in cruise control and see out the rest of the match. They seemed to be doing just that, with the Chanticleers’ only chance of any note until the last ten minutes being a ball from Pugh to a streaking Repetto at the top of the box, with his glancing finish dragging wide of the post. However, from seemingly nowhere, Coastal would make the last 8 minutes dramatic ones, as in the 82nd minute Nico Benalcazar would be muscled off the ball by Claudio Repetto, who would calmly run onto the ball and stroke it into the far bottom corner of the net to make it 3-2. In spite of this goal to cut the deficit to one, the Chanticleers were unable to create anything else to threaten the Wake goal, with the only chance of the last 8 minutes falling to Kyle Holcomb after he ran onto a lobbed ball by David Wrona, but Tor Saunders was able to parry it wide.
In the end, an uncomfortable last ten minutes for Wake but they controlled this game throughout and won a matchup that I thought they would have a lot more trouble advancing out of. The man of the match for this one has to be Omar Hernandez for his two dazzling goals, although the stellar performances of Jahlane Forbes, Takuma Suzuki, and Jake Swallen also warrant a mention here. There is some concern about Jahlane Forbes’ status for the next game, as he suffered an apparent shoulder injury early in the second half when Nicholas Itopolous fell on top of him after a clean tackle by the Chanticleer captain.
Wake will need to clean up their mistakes going into their next matchup against the previously mentioned Kentucky Wildcats, who come into the Sweet Sixteen after a 2-0 win against the previously undefeated, and 11th ranked, New Hampshire Wildcats. Kickoff will be at 9:00 on Thursday and will take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina.