The Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team had a disappointing start to their 2021 campaign, falling at home to the Virginia Commonwealth Rams by a score of 2-0. It was a game that they had plenty of chances to take control of, but some poor finishing and defensive lapses helped hand the Rams a huge road win, as they were able to hold the Deacs goalless even when they went down to ten men. It’s a game the Deacs will want to move quickly on from, and have the opportunity to do so with the short turnaround to the Bucknell game on Sunday. But before looking ahead to that game, we need to look back on the events of this one.
The Deacs stumbled out of the blocks, with VCU finding a big chance early off of a Garrison Tubbs turnover in his own area to Celio Pompeu, who curled one from the right side of the area beyond Cole McNally, but it rattled off of the post and came back out. After this chance, Wake’s set piece struggles would come up again, with a ball from a corner deflecting off of Kyle Holcomb’s hip and into Damian Gallegos, with the deflection off of his upper torso setting up Simon Fitch with a shot inside of the six yard box that he would crush off of the bar and behind Cole McNally to open the scoring for the Rams. The Deacs did appeal for a handball on this play, and pretty vehemently, but based on the replays it’s tough to conclude whether or not it touched his arm or not. It is a call that is normally made, but it’s certainly not a clear handball.
The Deacs would grow into the game after the goal, with Kyle Holcomb finding himself with a big chance inside the six yard box on an excellent feed from Jahlane Forbes, but his stretching effort would careen off the post and back out to Omar Hernandez, who would see his rebound come off of Ulrik Edvarsen’s head and go over the crossbar. Holcomb would have another good chance moments later, with Nico Benalcazar putting a great ball in behind on the right wing for David Wrona, who would cut it back to Holcomb 12 yards from goal but he would blast his effort over the crossbar. Omar Hernandez would get another look as well, with a rebound from a Nico Benalcazar cross off of the goalkeeper Mario Sequeira falling to him at the top of the box, but his effort would also curl over the bar.
Wake would go onto rue these misses when VCU would double their only 2 minutes after the Hernandez chance, with Garrison Tubbs allowing a seemingly harmless ball from William Hitchcock across his body inside the box, but he would be stripped by Celio Pompeu, who would get beyond Prince Amponsah and force a huge save out of McNally, who could not gather it, and saw Tubbs scuff his clearance right to Hitchcock, who would trap it and rip it across goal into the bottom corner to put the Rams firmly in the driver’s seat. It was a rough moment for Tubbs in what was, admittedly, a bad game for him back there.
Wake clearly lost the wind in their sails, and although they were still able to possess the ball relatively well, they looked very disjointed, and VCU looked to be a massive danger on the counter. A turnover by Takuma Suzuki just inside the VCU half would set up Ethan Manheim to tee up an audacious attempt from inside his own half, with his shot getting over McNally, but taking an extremely unlucky bounce and coming off of the underside of the bar. The Rams would get one more chance before the half was out, with Tarik Moutaouakil receiving the ball on the right side of the box and curling one towards goal that Cole McNally was able to stop, but only deflect into forward Oquin Robinson, with it somehow bouncing back off of McNally and out to where Prince Amponsah could boot it away. With Wake still reeling, the halftime interval would come as they trailed by a pair at home.
The second half started brightly for the Deacs, with David Wrona finding some space for himself outside of the left side of the area, curling one on frame that forced a huge save from Sequeira to keep the shutout. From there, Wake controlled the remainder of the game, and the chances would come for them to climb back in, with a Roald Mitchell shot being deflected off of the crossbar with about 30 to go in the game. Wake would see themselves go up a man soon after, with Celio Pompeu receiving a second yellow card, setting the stage for the rest of the game to be played in the Rams’ half, and mostly around their box. Ultimately, VCU would weather the storm, with Wake watching a pair of big chances go by the wayside, with Prince Amponsah finding himself with a free header at the back post off of a front post flick that he would put over the crossbar. Julian Kennedy would find himself free on goal, but could only put his effort at the feet of Sequeira who got down to make the big save. The final horn would sound without the Deacs scoring a goal, and the Rams finding a resumé building win for themselves in Winston-Salem.
It was a very frustrating game for the Deacs, as the loss was primarily self-inflicted. This is not meant to discredit what was a resolute and professional road performance from VCU, but with the chances that Wake had, they shouldn’t have been shut out in this game. The two chances Kyle Holcomb saw in the first half were the most glaring missed opportunities, not necessarily just because of quality, but because of the point in the game when he had them, as a goal to make it 1-1 likely changes the entire makeup of this game. He is certainly not the only one to miss chances in this game, and Wake’s misses certainly undid them, but the defensive miscues were also a huge reason as to why this game went the way that it did. Garrison Tubbs had an uncharacteristically poor game, with a few big turnovers and the mistakes that led to the second goal, but those were only the mistakes that were punished, as there were plenty of other mistakes made across the backline and by the holding midfielders. They did finish relatively strongly in this game, and performing as poorly as they did in front of goal during this game is certainly anomalous, so the hope is that the team can put this one behind them and move forward.
My overall man of the match in this game would be Ulrik Edvardsen, he was dominant in the air and came up with a few big blocks and tackles for his team in this game, although I think special mention should be made of Zeron Sewell and William Hitchcock, both of whom were excellent for VCU in what was a full team effort. As for the Deacs, it was not all doom and gloom. David Wrona had a very good game on the left flank, and will hopefully continue to put in that level of performance going forward, as he definitely showed up in a big way for the Deacs although he was unable to get onto the scoresheet. With all that said, the Deacs will look to change their fortunes against Bucknell on Sunday, with the Bisons coming to Spry following a 7-0 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels. It’s a game the Deacs will need to use as a jumping off point for the rest of their season, and will try to use this quick turnaround to leave this VCU performance in the past.
(Editor’s Note: Another great article by Chris, our current student and soccer fan)