The Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team (9-0, 3-0 ACC) added another pair of victories this week, both in dominant fashion. On Tuesday, they earned their eighth victory of the season, demolishing George Mason (2-6) by a 6-1 scoreline. The Deacs repeated the feat on Saturday in Clemson, defeating the then No. 10 Clemson Tigers (7-2, 1-2 ACC) by the same score in a statement victory for the program. With these victories, Wake remained at No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, this time unanimously. In this same poll, their opponent today, the Duke Blue Devils, were ranked at No. 4. With the best Wake team likely since the 2019 season taking the field in the biggest game at Spry in about as long, there is a lot of excitement surrounding tonight’s festivities at Spry. Last week’s games are worth a revisit though, as they were classic performances for the Deacs.
First, the Deacs hosted George Mason in a non conference matchup last Tuesday, and it was not much of a contest. Wake had a slew of chances early, and they finally broke through in the 27th minute, when Samuel Jones headed the ball back into the danger area after it was half cleared on a corner. Leo Guarino was able to get a handle on it and lash it across the goal and into the side netting to give the Deacs the lead. George Mason did score in a shock, though, as in the 42nd minute a short ball from Garrison Tubbs didn’t quite get to Sam Jones, who couldn’t put a good challenge in against Zach Eichelberger, who walked in on Trace Alphin and slotted it home to tie the game up. The tie was short lived, though, as the Deacs regained the lead on yet another recycled ball on a set piece in the 45th minute. Aethan Yohannes would reclaim possession after a George Mason defender poked the ball away from Omar Hernandez after a corner. Yohannes would work the ball out wide to Sidney Paris on the left flank, who sent a gorgeous ball right onto the head of Garrison Tubbs, who nodded it home for his first goal of the season. The Deacs certainly deserved to go into the half leading, and, ultimately, they did when the buzzer sounded.
In the second half, the Deacs put their foot on George Mason’s throat, coming out early and blitzing the Patriots in the second half. In the 51st minute, Oscar Sears put one in the back of the net, getting on the end of a Colin Thomas cutback and side footing it to the far post. It would only get worse for George Mason six minutes later, as a gorgeous play started by Chase Oliver would be finished by him, as he slotted in a one on one opportunity off of a slick backheel from Oscar Sears. The attacking flurry continued in the 60th minute, as Chase Oliver would slide it through to Jahlane Forbes on the left flank, who would slide it into the back of the net off of the hand of Patriot keeper Jake Langley. Wake began to let off the gas a touch later on in the half, keeping possession of the ball for most of the rest of the way. They would find a sixth goal in the 72nd minute, as Jahlane Forbes got loose down the left flank and sent a ball across to David Wrona, who would bungle it over the line to put a bow on this game for Wake. As the final whistle went, the Deacs picked up an eighth win on the season. This game saw a lot of excellent performances from Wake, but for me the man of the match was Jahlane Forbes, who registered a goal and two assists as well as a solid defensive performance in this one. With this win, the Deacs had great momentum going into a huge clash on the weekend.
Wake had to fight some phantoms this past Saturday, as they went down to face the No. 10 ranked and defending national champion Clemson Tigers at Riggs Field, a venue where they have not won since 2018. This game had all the makings of a marquee heavyweight bout, and it lived up to that billing early with some back and forth action. Clemson seemed to be getting the better of the contest until the 17th minute, when Baba Niang played a one-two with Roald Mitchell and teed one up from distance, hitting the far corner to give the Deacs the lead in stunning fashion. Clemson continued to put Wake under some pressure after the goal, though, and forced Trace Alphin into some tough saves. However, in the 27th minute, the Deacs found another goal to take full control of the game. Cooper Flax sent a corner to the top of the box for Hosei Kijima, who sent a piledriver through traffic along the turf into the back of the net to give the Deacs a multi-goal lead in Clemson. The game settled into an uneasy stalemate for the remainder of the first half, and the Deacs would take their two goal lead into the break.
The second half was an entirely different ball game. Clemson’s press was no longer proving effective at all, and the Deacs were able to work the ball right through the Tigers. They found themselves up three goals in the 50th minute, with Vlad Walent receiving the ball out wide from Roald Mitchell. Walent danced his way around Titus Sandy Jr. and sent the ball past Trevor Manion at the near post with the help of a deflection. Clemson ran out of gas after this goal, and the Deacs took the reins of this game entirely from them. In the 63rd minute, Chase Oliver would score his second goal of the year and in as many games, depositing a cutback from Jahlane Forbes after a dummy from Omar Hernandez. In the 77th minute, Leo Guarino also deposited his second goal in two games and third on the year, receiving a ball inside from Sidney Paris, controlling it and turning his defender, and then hitting it across goal, off the post, and in. The Deacs’ sixth goal came moments before the final whistle in the 89th minute, as Oscar Sears deposited a bouncing ball from a Sidney Paris ball across to turn this game from a rout to an oddity of a result. Clemson did find a goal in this game, though, as Trace Alphin conceded a late penalty that Brandon Parrish deposited in the 90th minute of time. The final whistle would blow only seconds later, and the Deacs would pick up a statement result. There were a slew of excellent performances again for Wake, but I think that Roald Mitchell was the man of the match, picking up a pair of assists in the rout and pressing very well.
While the Clemson game was a landmark, it was only a taster for a giant matchup at Spry tonight against the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (6-0-2). The Blue Devils have had an excellent season to this point, earning their own marquee victory against then No. 10 now No. 15 Louisville on the road. The Blue Devils are looking to build on their 14-5-1 season last year after five consecutive seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth. It is a return to form for head coach John Kerr, who has accumulated a 136-101-33 record in his 15 year career with Duke. Wake has had the better of the Blue Devils in recent years, although the teams have played one another fairly sparingly, but the most recent meeting between the teams was a 3-2 loss for the Deacs in Durham in the ACC Tournament. These are two top teams looking to make an early statement on the national stage, and it should lead to a barn burner of a game.
The game is set for a 7:00 kickoff and will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra and ESPN+.