The No. 7 Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team (0-1) will look to rebound this Sunday against the Bucknell Bison (0-1) of the Patriot League after both teams suffered disappointing defeats in their season openers. The Deacs come in after a disappointing home loss to VCU by a score of 2-0 in a game they were expected to win, while Bucknell will be more disappointed by the way they lost rather than the fact that they lost, as they traveled to No. 4 UNC and shipped 7 goals in a blowout, shutout loss. With the Bucknell program reeling, for a variety of reasons, this is a great opportunity for the Deacs to get back on track, or a chance for Matt Brown to get a season altering win for his program.
In the all-time series versus Wake, Bucknell does hold the advantage, with the caveat to this being that the two schools have only met once before, in the 1982 season. Both programs have come a long way since then, and sit in very different places today. The Bison are coming off of a 1-4-1 season, the sixth straight year where they failed to surpass a .500 record, although they did win the 2014 Patriot League title. It would wind up being longtime coach Scott Nash’s final season at the helm, as he would resign only 10 days before the start of this season due to personal reasons, leaving assistant coach Matt Brown as the interim boss for at least the start of the season. They were picked as the ninth of ten teams in the Patriot League, only picked to finish ahead of Army. They lost their only all-conference team selection, Matt Thorsheim, to the transfer portal, with the Manalapan, NJ native joining up with the William & Mary Tribe after being a back to back first team all conference selection in the Patriot Conference. It should be an uphill battle for the Bison against the Deacs, who have been picked as the 2nd best team in the Coastal division of the ACC and 7th ranked team in the country by the United Soccer Coaches’ Preseason Poll.
Tactically, the Bison line up in a 4-4-2, with their right winger Alex Clarke lined up further up the field than their left winger. It is hard to get a true grasp of what their attacking philosophy is based on the performance versus UNC, but they do try to take advantage of set plays and use long throws to create chances, two things Wake struggle mightily against. On the other hand, the Bison look like an absolute mess defensively. They’re not very sharp on restarts, struggle with set pieces, give up a lot of second balls, and seem to lose the men they’re marking frequently, especially after clearing the first ball on a set piece. They also lack some bite in the midfield, which most of the teams that have given Wake a hard time have had, and last game also saw some relatively weak play from their keeper, although I’m not sure how much an elite performance from Aiden Perry would have altered the result. If Wake is able to move the ball the way they want to, as UNC were, they should take this one running away.
Ones to Watch
- #17 Chris Masur (CM): Chances are, if Bucknell is going to get a dangerous counter going it will start with Masur. While not a big or aggressive midfielder, Masur does seem to have some talent on the ball, and loves to ping a long pass or just carry it in possession to get the Bison moving. He’ll definitely need to add a significantly better defensive effort in this one, as he’ll be expected to contend with a Wake team that is loaded with midfield talent and will funnel the ball into the space he’ll need to defend. His performance will most likely be the most important determinant of how this game goes for the Bison.
- #25 Alex Clarke (W/CM): One of the captains of the squad, Clarke will be expected to contribute with his play and keep his teammates composed in a difficult environment. He has not had the goals and assists to show it, but going forward Clarke is a solid player who will need to become more of a contributor on the stat sheet, as he is clearly expected to be one of their primary threats this season. He played on the right wing in the game against UNC, likely as a way to get him further up the field and closer to the goal where they expect him to be more dangerous, and they’ll need him to be in this game.
- #3 Kyle Holcomb (CF): Kyle Holcomb had a game to forget against VCU, missing a few big chances to get Wake back on level terms before the Rams would finish the Deacs off. Holcomb has had his finishing issues in the past, but this year, as a senior captain and preseason all-american selection, he needs to put up the kind of performances we’ve seen of him down the stretch last season. He always finds himself in good spaces, presses well, and holds the ball up relatively well, but they’ll need him to finish more chances, and a game against a weaker opponent gives him the opportunity to find his shooting boots again.
- #8 Babacar Niang (AM): Niang showed some real flashes of being a good player in the exhibition game versus Coastal Carolina, but was held mostly silent by VCU. In this game, he’ll have an opportunity to show what kind of player he is, with his ability to slow things down or to play direct coupled with his changes of pace and body control should make him a nightmare for the Bucknell midfield, as he’ll likely see a lot of the ball in this one. This game offers him an opportunity to show that he is ready to be a big contributor this season, and he’ll definitely want to grab that chance with both hands.
Wake is the heavy favorite in this contest, but with the danger Bucknell presents in the areas of the game in which the Deacs are not proficient, they’ll be in with a fighting chance. Kickoff for this game is set for 7:00 tonight at Spry.
(Editor Note: Another great soccer article by Chris)