The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-2) found a huge victory at home against the #5 Pittsburgh Panthers (4-3) by a score of 3-1 to win their ACC opener and to move back to .500 in conference play, and over .500 overall. It was the best performance the Deacs have put on this season, as we saw more shades of the team that took the field last spring than the one that struggled out of the gates this season. With such a huge win under their belt, this could be the jumping off point for the Deacs to turn their season around.
The first fifteen minutes of this game were very even, with the two teams trading long distance efforts at first and looking dangerous going forward, with Pitt consistently getting loose on the wing, and Wake looking dangerous on the break when the ball turned over. Wake would find the first goal right on the 16th minute however, as Takuma Suzuki would step up and strip Filip Mirkovic as he tried to turn a ball from Brandon Clagette, then springing Omar Hernandez to his left. Hernandez would rip a left footed effort across goal that it looked like Nico Campuzano would catch, but he could only push it back down into the ground, and as he tried to lunge out to collect the rebound, Kyle Holcomb would take a touch around him and roof it into the open goal with his left foot, giving Wake the lead.
From here, Wake took clear control of the game. They won the majority of the second balls, their counterpress was working very effectively, and they were playing right through Pitt’s press. They would give up a big chance for Pitt to tie the game soon after their first goal, however with Bertin Jacquesson getting loose down their left flank, and cutting it back to Rodrigo Almeida in the center of the box, but his effort was straight at Trace Alphin, who graciously collected the ball. They’d be made to pay for this error when Wake doubled their lead in the 24th minute, when Jake Swallen would put a ball in from a corner that Garrison Tubbs would meet with his head inside of the six yard box, with no chance for the keeper to do anything but watch the ball go into the net to double Wake’s advantage.
There weren’t many chances for either side in the rest of the half, with Wake still dominating for the most part, although Pitt were still able to get some guys isolated on the flanks. Wake still won the lion’s share of second balls and counterpressed well, also preventing Pitt from executing those big switches to the fullbacks that they used to such great effect versus UNC. As the buzzer sounded for halftime, Wake were up two, and were in firm control of the game.
Wake started the second half much like they ended the first, and nearly put a third goal on the board in the first 6 minutes, with an ugly turnover from Brandon Clagette to Omar Hernandez deep in his own half allowing the Wake attacking mid to cut it back to Kyle Holcomb at the top of the box, who put his effort over the crossbar. Wake continued to apply pressure on the Pitt backline and create some good opportunities out wide, with these chances culminating in the 69th minute with the third goal for the Demon Deacons, with Leo Guarino finding Chase Oliver all alone down the left flank, with Oliver carrying it into the box and setting up a shot at the near post on his left foot, with his effort being deflected over Nico Campuzano by Arturo Ordonez to put the Deacs in a dominant 3-0 position.
After this goal, Pitt started pushing numbers forward to try to get back in the game, and were able to find some chances, with the first big one being a chance for Valentin Noel, who turned the ball at the top of the box and lashed it goalwards in the 73rd minute, with Trace Alphin frozen in the center of the goal, staring at the ball coming off of the outside of the post and going out of the box. Although Wake were able to get some good looks when they were able to get out of their own half and get into numerical advantages in the attacking end, as well as getting chances off of turnovers in Pitt’s half, the next goal would be the Panthers’, as Rodrigo Almeida would find Veljko Petkovic in the middle, who would lash one into the top corner on his left foot from 25 yards to bring Pitt back into striking range with 10 minutes to go.
Wake almost restored its 3 goal lead only minutes later, with Leo Guarino intercepting a bad pass out of the back from Nico Campuzano to go one on one with the keeper, who would save his chipped effort, but he would collect his own rebound near the endline with Campuzano out of the play, but he flashed his effort across the goal without troubling either of the defenders on the line. Guarino’s night would end early as well only moments later, as he was issued a second yellow card in the 85th minute to put the Deacs down to ten men, but it would ultimately not have any impact on the game, as the Deacs would see it out to move to 3-2 and get a huge victory against the team thought of as the class of the ACC.
It’s hard to pick out a man of the match in this game after all of the incredible performances Wake players put on. I have to give my man of the match to a player on the backline, who were all tremendous last night. Garrison Tubbs is my man of the match for this game, as he defended very well, won most of his duels, played out of pressure exceptionally, and added a goal just for good measure. I would also like to give special mentions to the performances of Hosei Kijima, Nico Benalcazar, and Takuma Suzuki, all of whom I thought were exceptional last night. It was a complete performance, and one that proves that Wake still has that second gear to compete with the best of the best in this country, and could still make their way back up into that category this season after a rough start.
With a big win in their back pocket, the Deacs will travel to Fairfax on Monday to face George Mason, with kickoff set for 7:00.