The Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team (11-3, 4-2 ACC) had a bit of a frustrating week, winning an ACC game but losing on the road out of conference. They began their week with a trip to Williamsburg to face William & Mary (4-3-6) which ended in a shocking 2-1 victory for the home side. With the Deacs reeling after a bad road loss and three losses in their last four games, Boston College (3-6-3, 1-4-1 ACC) were hoping to earn their first road victory of the season, but Wake shut those hopes down with a 3-1 victory powered by a late flurry of goals. It has been a tough few weeks for Wake, who were the unanimous No. 1 team in the country at the beginning of October, but are now faltering. They’ve posted a 2-3 record in the month of October, with the only wins coming against a 3-6-3 BC team that has won on the road one time in the last three years, and a 3-6-3 Jacksonville team with only two road wins in that same span. They currently sit at No. 25 in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, but this week, they’re presented with a pair of opportunities to right the ship. They’ll start their week against another non-conference foe and close it with a ranked matchup against an old enemy. Before looking ahead to this week, though, let’s look back at this past week’s performances.
Wake began the week with a Tuesday trip up to Virginia, where they faced a William & Mary team that hadn’t lost in any of its previous eight games. They’d been a tough team to break down over this stretch, and the Deacs found it no easier to find chances against the Tribe than their previous eight opponents had, settling for long shots and set plays. The Tribe were content to give the Deacs the ball and let them play with it, sitting in their own end and defending. While Wake did have the ball for the majority of the half, they found themselves down a goal in stunning fashion, as a shot from way outside the area by Nathan Messer found its way into the back of the net in the 20th minute to give William & Mary the lead. This goal forced the Deacs to have a bit more urgency going forward, but still the chances weren’t coming easy. They needed a moment of magic to tie the game up, and they got one in the 33rd minute when Roald Mitchell was brought down right outside the area. It would be Ryan Fessler who would step up and take the free kick, and he would put it in the back of the net on the goalie’s side, as he caught Danilo Nikcevic cheating toward the wall side. This goal got the Deacs back level, but it also killed off their sense of urgency, and both sides would coast into the half with the score tied at one.
From the first whistle, the second half followed a similar script to the first, with Wake patiently prodding William & Mary’s backline and holding the ball for long periods. Things began to get a bit sloppy for the Deacs, though, as they still couldn’t quite find any gaps in the Tribe’s defense. When the Tribe did get the ball, they had some decent opportunities to get forward in the counter attack, but they couldn’t quite find a big chance. This uneasy balance continued until the 75th minute, when William & Mary found what would be the winning goal. The Tribe caught the Deacs napping, as Wake conceded a foul about 30 yards from goal, and Alfredo Bozalongo would play it quickly over the top while the Deacs were still setting up for the set piece. Alexander Levengood would get on the end of the ball, and despite struggling to control the ball initially, he would send it across from the endline and find Lucas Caldas in front of an open goal. Caldas got a touch and the ball found its way over the line, giving William & Mary a late lead. Wake wasn’t really able to get any clean looks at goal in the last 15 minutes, and the final buzzer would sound to give the Tribe a ranked victory. It’s hard to pick out any one player from either team as having a standout moment, as the game was a stalemate for the majority of the 90 minutes, but for me Alexander Levengood was the man of the match, as he assisted both goals and was a handful for the Wake backline when the Tribe did get forward.
Wake found themselves in desperate need of a win when they returned to Spry on Saturday, but they’d need to get through a pesky opponent to earn one. Boston College came to Winston-Salem with a 1-6-3 record in their previous 10 games, but even with their recent struggles they had given Wake trouble, playing the Deacs to a 3-2 win and a 3-2 loss in their previous two games. This game started quite differently to the previous two, however, with Wake largely dominating proceedings early, showing a lot more bite and urgency than they had in previous games. However, despite some decent chances, including a big opportunity for Colin Thomas from close range, they were unable to find a goal in the first 45 minutes. They held the Eagles in check during that time, though, having nearly 60% possession in the first half and only allowing two shots. When the halftime buzzer blew, Wake likely deserved to be up, but they went into the break tied at zero.
The second half started much in the same way that the first half had ended, with Wake largely in the driver’s seat but still unable to find a goal. The game changed drastically around the 60th minute, as BC began to find themselves in spots going forward. They put Wake under a lot of pressure, and although they didn’t have any excellent chances, they were working the ball into dangerous spots in and around Wake’s penalty area. This spell of solid play for the Eagles continued until Wake suddenly broke the tie against the run of play. The goal came in the 74th minute, when the Deacs were able to force a turnover high up the field. Ryan Fessler worked the ball outside to Jahlane Forbes on the left flank, who swung the ball into the back post for Colin Thomas, who sent it into the roof of the net to give the Deacs the lead. Following the goal, Wake was able to exploit BC as they tried to come out and press them to push for an equalizer. The Deacs’ second goal came in the 81st minute, when Ryan Fessler would play the ball short to Oscar Sears with space ahead of him. The Swede would drive the ball forward and make his way into the area, launching one into the top corner of the far post from the right side of the box to extend Wake’s advantage.
The second goal was a backbreaker for the Eagles, who seemed to have all of the air sucked out of them after the ball hit the net. The Deacs added another goal for insurance in the 85th minute to kill any remaining hopes for a comeback, as Garrison Tubbs would step up and take the ball from Camilo Ponce, then drive it forward into the attacking third. He sent the ball through to Vlad Walent, who would slip the ball past Brennen Klein and just inside the post to wrap up the victory. BC would find a goal in this game, as in the 89th minute Sam Jones wouldn’t be able to corral a dangerous ball back into the center of the field by Jahlane Forbes, and Stefan Sigurdarson would capitalize on the mistake, sliding it into the back of the net to cut the deficit to two goals. It was far too late, though, and Wake would see the remaining minute out to earn a critical conference victory. This game saw a few strong performances from the Deacs, including a bounceback game for the backline and some good performances from Colin Thomas and Vlad Walent, but for me the man of the match was Oscar Sears. Sears only played 26 minutes in this game, but when he came on in the 65th minute, the game changed for the Deacs. He was impactful going forward, scoring a critical second goal, and also very helpful in helping the Deacs work the ball through the BC press. In the end, it was a resilient team performance that resulted in a key victory for Wake.
With another slip in the rankings, this time way down to the final spot in the 25, the Deacs will need to generate some positive momentum in their final three games to have any hope of hosting multiple games during the NCAA Tournament. The first step to doing that comes tonight as the Deacs host the Wofford Terriers (4-6-2) of the SoCon in their final non-conference matchup of the season. It’s been another frustrating year for Wofford, who once again seem destined for another losing season, but that are still 1-1-1 in conference with the opportunity to sneak into the tournament. This season would mark a sixth straight without a winning record for the Terriers, who haven’t made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2009, which is still the only appearance the Terriers have made in the program’s 47 year history. They’ve shown few signs of progress under head coach Joel Tyson, who has accumulated a 14-37-5 in his now nearly four-year tenure. They’re a team that has struggled mightily defensively, conceding 1.96 goals per game under Tyson and 2.08 goals per game this season. However, they’re not going to be a walkover for the Deacs. They’ve scored two or more goals in seven of their twelve games, including in five of their last seven. The Terriers have also lost only one of their last five games, and hold a 3-1-2 record on the road this season. They present a different kind of challenge to the Deacs, as they’re a team that relies heavily on outscoring opponents rather than outlasting them. Wake will need to take advantage of the openings they’re given, especially if the Wofford attack shows up.
Following their matchup with the Terriers, the Deacs will travel up to Charlottesville, where they’ll take on the No. 24 UVA Cavaliers (8-4-1, 4-1-1 ACC). The ‘Hoos have long dominated the Demon Deacons, holding a 39-14-8 record in the all time series, including a multitude of postseason heartbreaks for the Deacs. This year has seen a return to form for the Cavaliers, who posted back to back losing seasons after losing in the national championship game in 2019 (after they defeated Wake 2-1 in the College Cup semifinals). They’ve done it the hard way as well, as they’ve faced five opponents currently ranked in the top 25 as well as Pittsburgh and Clemson, who both received votes in the poll this week. This is what head coach George Gelnovatch has done at the helm of the UVA program; he’s made them a team that can compete with anyone in the country. Over his nearly 27 years in charge, Gelnovatch has led the ‘Hoos to a 359-152-63 record, winning national titles in 2009 and 2014, ACC titles in 1997, 2003, 2004, 2009, and 2019, and 24 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 1996-2019.
Gelnovatch is one of the greatest coaches in the history of college soccer, and he’s gotten to be that way by building teams that are well organized, aggressive, and opportunistic. This year, he’s put together that kind of team. UVA has conceded only 14 goals this season, with eight of those coming in consecutive games (6-1 loss to No. 8 Maryland, 4-2 victory vs Virginia Tech). The ‘Hoos have also put together a strong attack, averaging 2 goals per game so far this season. The Deacs have their work cut out for them against a team that they typically struggle with, but it’s not a mountain they haven’t climbed before. Wake defeated the ‘Hoos 3-0 in the ACC Tournament last season in what was the Deacs’ first ever postseason victory against UVA. Wake also has won three of their previous four games at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville and holds an 8-11-1 record all-time at UVA. This weekend, they’ll be hoping to add win number nine.
Tonight’s game with Wofford is set for 7:00 and the Saturday game against UVA is also set for a 7:00 kickoff. Both games will be on ESPN+ and ACC Network Extra.