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Preview: No. 18 Wake Men’s Soccer Takes on Cornell

Wake looks to build on last weekend’s victory against a tricky Cornell team.

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

The No. 18 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-1) will look to start a good run of form against the Cornell Big Red tonight at Spry. The Deacs come into this one at 1-1 after a 2-0 loss in their season opener to VCU and a comfortable 2-0 win over Bucknell last weekend, and will be looking to start a winning run heading into ACC play. As for the Big Red, this will be their first game since the fall of 2019, as the Ivy League did not play a fall or spring season last year. With Cornell being such a big question mark after missing a full year of play last season, it should be an interesting matchup, especially considering the way that both teams play.

The Matchup

Cornell enter this matchup picked to finish second in the Ivy League this season, with the Big Red retaining 17 of their players from the 2019 season heading into this season as well as 19 players of yet to play college soccer. In 2019, Cornell would finish 10-5-2 and 3-2-2 in conference under head coach John Smith, who has taken a Cornell team that went 1-14-2 in his first year and brought them back to being a solid program in his 4 seasons there so far after leaving his associate head coach job at Stanford. Smith’s side will retain a lot of the continuity from that 2019 team, with the return of 17 of those players, 5 of whom were All-Ivy selections, keeping the squad mostly in tact, although they did graduate top scorer John Scearce. As for the Deacs, their national reputation took a hit from that VCU loss, with Wake dropping from 7th to 18th in the United Soccer Coaches Poll last week, and will be looking to climb back up the rankings with a win against what looks to be a good Cornell team this season.

It’s difficult to predict with full accuracy what this year’s Cornell team will line up in after missing the whole of last season, but based on what we saw of them in 2019, we can assume that they will line up in a 4-3-3. Cornell are a team that love to push up the field when they have the ball, with their 4-3-3 turning into almost a 4-1-5 when they attack, looking to overwhelm the opposing defense with their numbers, then counter-pressing if the ball is lost. Like Wake, they like to work the ball out wide and find cutback opportunities for goals, but they also look very dangerous on set pieces, something Wake has struggled with mightily in the last two seasons. With that being said though, if that first wave of the press is beaten, this Cornell team can be quite easily stretched, with numerical advantages being quite easy to come by when breaking out. Much of this game will be decided based on how well Wake are able to play in their own half, both with and without the ball. With Cornell bringing such great numbers into the attacking third, Wake will need to deal with threats both outside and in the middle, with overlaps on the flanks being a particular focus. They’ll also need to be able to play out of Cornell’s counter-press not only to prevent efforts on their goal, but to create chances for their attackers. And that brings up another issue entirely, which is that Wake will need to be efficient in front of goal this game, as they’ve had some struggles in finishing chances this season, and with the attacking threat Cornell poses, Wake will not want to let chances go begging. With all of this being said, if Wake is able to control the possession for the majority of this game, Cornell’s attack may be completely neutralized should the Deacs take good care of the ball and play on their own terms, as they did against Bucknell.

Ones to Watch:

Cornell:

  • #12 Tyler Bagley (CM): Bagley’s most recent college season saw him register a goal and 2 assists in 17 appearances, but he appears to have found a scoring touch after his summer season in amateur division USL League 2, where he scored 12 goals in 13 games from the midfield for the Boston Bolts. Bagley is a more slight and slippery midfielder, often finding himself in good spaces in the middle. He is able to navigate tight spaces pretty well, and is a two footed player, which has shown in his goals quite often. He has a knack for shooting from outside the area, making him a real danger to the Wake goal if they aren’t quick to close him down. He should be poised for a breakout year this season if his USL2 form is anything to go off of, and Wake will need to be diligent to make sure he doesn’t break out against them.
  • #9 Charles Touche (FW): Touche is coming off of a productive season in USL2 as well, making the Southern Conference Team of the Year with Lionsbridge FC, becoming their all time leader in goals. That is what Touche brings: goals. The forward had a bit of a rocky 2019 plagued by injuries, but netted 9 in his 2018 campaign to achieve first team All-Ivy. He is a composed finisher, and a strong, tall center forward who seems to be as deadly in the air as he is with the ball at his feet. With Wake having a smaller defense, they’ll need to be wary of Touche getting any touches in the box, on the ground or in the air.

Wake:

  • #13 David Wrona (W): With so many questions on the wings going into this year, David Wrona appears to have secured his place in the lineup after two very solid showings. Wrona has always been a good player holding the ball up and has had great energy, but he appears to have added some new elements to his game. He’s looked very sharp with the ball and getting to the line, looking very dangerous going forward out wide. Although he’s not been able to pick up a point yet this season, Wrona has looked like one of Wake’s most dangerous attackers, but will also play a key role in this game defensively, covering overlaps when Cornell goes forward. Wake will need a big game from both of their wingers, and Wrona should be relied upon to deliver a big game.
  • #23 Nico Benalcazar (CB): Benalcazar has developed into a very composed and solid collegiate defender, ascending to Wake’s captaincy in the process. As the captain of this team, and the leader of its back line, he’ll be responsible for keeping the Deacs’ defense in good order, both playing out and defending Cornell’s dangerous attack. A good game for the Deacs tonight starts with a good performance at the back from Benalcazar, and based on his track record, he can be expected to deliver.

Kickoff is set for 7:00 PM tonight in Winston-Salem.