It was a disappointing week for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team (10-2, 3-2 ACC), who responded to a tough home loss to a top ten Duke team with a narrow victory against a struggling Jacksonville team (3-5-3) and a tough road loss to then No. 7 Syracuse (10-2-1, 4-1 ACC). The Deacs are currently ranked No. 4 at time of writing, but with losses in two of their last three games, both to top ten opponents, it’s tough to say where they will fall. But regardless of where they’ll be ranked, they’ll have to respond to these results with a pair of games this week, the first being a road trip to Williamsburg, Virginia to face the William & Mary Tribe (3-2-6) of the Colonial Athletic Association. Following this game, they’ll return to Spry this weekend for their sixth ACC clash of the season, taking on the Boston College Eagles (3-4-3, 1-3-1 ACC) in a game that both teams need to win desperately. Before looking ahead at those matchups, though, last week’s matches are worthy of review.
On Tuesday night, the Deacs hosted the Dolphins of Jacksonville University in a non-conference matchup. Wake was expected to dominate this game, and they certainly did control the tempo and flow of it, but they struggled mightily to find a goal. They had their chances to get one, but with Jacksonville putting all 11 men behind the ball, space was hard to come by in the attacking third. The Deacs were not really being challenged by the Dolphins, although a couple of sloppy mistakes in the backline should have been capitalized on by Jacksonville. A few missed chances by Wake kept the game tied until the 56th minute, when Ryan Fessler sent the ball forward to Baba Niang, who fell after stepping on the ball awkwardly. Somehow he kept possession, though, and he threaded the needle on a beautiful ball through to Oscar Sears, who slid it into the back of the net with his first touch to give Wake the lead. It was the lone goal that would be scored in the game, as the Dolphins weren’t able to create any meaningful chances after the goal, even despite a late surge when they put the Deacs under some pressure. It was an okay performance from Wake, who mostly controlled possession and looked to see the game out, and despite some sloppiness they did just that. For me, Oscar Sears was the man of the match, as he came in and steadied a midfield that was struggling a bit, also adding more sharpness going forward that resulted in his fourth goal of the season.
The Jacksonville game was more of a tuneup for what would be a huge challenge for the Deacs on the weekend, as the team would head up north to face Syracuse at SU Soccer Stadium. This was a game that gave the Deacs an opportunity to propel themselves back up the rankings, but it got out of hand for them very early. Wake was finding it very difficult to play through the Orange’s press, and ‘Cuse were finding themselves with numbers going forward quite frequently. There was havoc in the Wake box throughout the early moments of the game, and this havoc eventually resulted in a penalty kick for the Orange. In the 13th minute, A clumsy challenge from Prince Amponsah brought down Levonte Johnson in the penalty area, and Jeorgio Kocevski would make no mistake with the spot kick, hitting it with pace beyond a diving Trace Alphin to give Syracuse the lead. Things would go from bad to worse for the Deacs, as ‘Cuse continued to send difficult crosses into the area that the Deacon backline was having trouble dealing with. In the 25th minute, the Orange would double their lead, as a cross from Christian Curti would cause trouble in the Wake box, but it would be Amponsah who would turn it into his own net, as his attempt to head the ball wide would go straight behind him and beyond the reach of Trace Alphin. This goal put the Orange squarely in the driver’s seat, and although Wake would find themselves a few opportunities to get back into the game in the first half, these chances would go unfinished. When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Deacs would go back into their locker room knowing they needed to dig their way out of a hole.
Ultimately, the Deacs were unable to find a way out. While Wake did deal with the press a bit better coming out of the break, Syracuse were still able to contain the Deacs’ attack with a professional performance. A few more chances fell for Wake, earlier in the half, but they would also go unfinished, giving Syracuse the opportunity to suck all of the life out of the game. The Orange were also still getting some chances going forward, but they too couldn’t put any away, giving Wake a lifeline late in the game. However, Syracuse continued to keep the Deacs at bay, leaving Wake with no opportunity to mount a late comeback as their attacks continued to dissipate before they could become dangerous. When the final whistle blew, the Deacs had dropped a second game in a row in conference, this time with little fanfare. This was a tough performance for the Deacs, who were outshot and outplayed by the Orange in a game that they really did need to pick up. I would say the man of the match here was Levonte Johnson, who was an absolute handful for Wake’s backline throughout this one, earning the penalty that would become the game winning goal.
Once again, the Deacs will need to rebound after a tough loss to a top team, but they’ll have to go on the road this time to do it. The Deacs open their week with a trip to William & Mary, who are certainly no pushovers. The Tribe haven’t lost a game since September 3rd, rattling off 8 games unbeaten after an 0-2-1 start, going 3-0-5 since then. This has been the kind of team that the Tribe have been for a few years, never really a contender within their conference but always a tough team to beat. But despite the past few seasons, the Tribe have been a solid mid-major team under the leadership of head coach Chris Norris, who is now entering his 32nd season in Williamsburg and his 19th as head coach of the program. Norris has been a part of almost every winning team in the history of the program between his time as a player, assistant, and head coach, going to three tournaments in his four years as a player, earning six NCAA berths as an assistant, and guiding the team to four tournament appearances as a head coach.
The Tribe has accumulated a 155-136-49 record under Norris, winning two CAA titles and going to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen in 2010. Recent years have been less fruitful for the program, though, as they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2017 and haven’t won the CAA since then as well. While they haven’t been a dominant team this season, they’ve been a tough one to score on, having only allowed four goals over their eight game unbeaten run. While that may not put them in a position to be a high seed in conference, nor to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, those kinds of teams can be tough matchups when the postseason begins. Wake had little trouble with the Tribe last season, however, defeating them 4-0 at Spry in a game that they took control of early and then methodically took them apart for the rest of the game. But the Deacs cannot afford to leave goals on the field in this game as they have in the last few games, as this year’s Tribe are a team that doesn’t give up many chances.
After this midweek matchup, the Deacs return to Spry on the weekend, hosting Boston College on Saturday. The Eagles have had a tough year to this point, holding a 3-4-3 record and only recently putting an end to a 7 game winless run with a conference win over a similarly struggling NC State squad. This has been par for the course for BC, who have struggled mightily since the retirement of longtime head coach Ed Kelly, who retired in 2019 after 32 years at the helm, which included 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, three Big East titles and an ACC title in 2007. Bob Thompson, who was named an assistant coach in 2018, took over for Kelly ahead of the 2020 season. The 2019 season was a relatively successful one for the Eagles, who went to the NCAA Tournament second round, but BC has struggled mightily since then, posting an 11-14-6 record under Thompson, missing the NCAA Tournament in both of his first two seasons. That being said, the Eagles are a team that has been a tough matchup for many top teams, especially the Deacs, who the Eagles are 1-1 against under Thompson. The most recent game between the two sides was a 3-2 victory for the Eagles in 2021 in Newton, Massachusetts, with a Mike Suski brace taking BC over the top in this one. The Deacs do have an advantage in the all time series, holding a 10-7-2 record against the Eagles, also dominating the recent history of the series with a 7-2 record against BC since 2013 (although BC is 2-1 against Wake since 2019).
Wake’s most recent victory against BC came in the second half of the 2020-21 season, when Hosei Kijima scored a late brace to steal a win for the Deacs’ in their spring opener. Kijima would be a critical player to have in this game against a physical BC squad, but with himself and Cooper Flax having missed the last couple of games with injury, it is unclear whether he will be available. In spite of this, though, the Deacs will certainly be expected to win against an Eagle squad that has not only struggled this year, but that has posted a road record of 1-12-1 under Thompson, with the only victory having come against Northeastern in the fall of 2021. They’re 0-3-1 this season on the road and are 0-9 on the road against ACC opponents under Thompson. Even with a team that is dealing with some injuries, this is a game that the Deacs need to win against an opponent that has struggled so mightily.
Tonight’s kickoff against William & Mary is scheduled for a 6:00 kickoff and will be broadcast on FloFC. Saturday night’s game against Boston College will kickoff at 7:00 at Spry and will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra and ESPN+.