The Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team (14-5) saw their ACC campaign go up in smoke last week, as a crushing home loss to Clemson (13-6-1) in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament sent Wake back to the drawing board. It was a flat performance and a tough loss to take for a Wake team that had been playing better over its previous two games. This wasn’t the nail in the Deacs’ season, though, as they were given an invite to the NCAA Tournament on Monday’s selection show. Their road is an intriguing one, and it runs through North Carolina, as the Deacs will first host the Ohio State Buckeyes (10-3-5) tonight, and, if they do get through, they’ll stay within the triad for their next matchup, traveling to #12 UNC Greensboro (13-1-4). Before looking ahead at their road forward, though, let’s take a look back at last week’s game.
It was a packed house at Spry last Wednesday as the Deacs hosted the Tigers with an ACC championship game berth on the line. Wake seemed to harness the energy of the crowd early, putting Clemson under some pressure in the opening minutes of the match. As that dissipated, however, the game settled into a state that Clemson was comfortable playing in, with Wake possessing the ball in its own half and sending long balls forward that were not reaching their targets. Clemson were getting some chances to go forward on the counter at this point, but Wake’s backline was able to contain the Tigers’ attack for the most part in the early stages of the match. However, a goal came completely out of the blue in the 14th minute, as Brandon Parrish would lash the ball goalwards from 30 yards out into the side netting, giving Clemson a shock lead very early on. Following the goal, very little about the match changed. Wake’s energy was still not all there, and Clemson was still getting out on the break and being foiled by Wake’s defense. The nearest either team came to a goal for the remainder of the half was a corner kick that got over Trace Alphin and rattled off the inside of the post and out. Ultimately, the score would remain the same when the half ended, and Wake had been held completely in check for the 45 minutes, failing to register even a shot attempt in the first period.
The second half did not yield more fruit for the Deacs, who did look a bit more clean on the ball in the second 45 minutes, but they couldn’t find any big opportunities to get back into the game. Clemson continued to look sharp on the counter, but Wake’s backline continued to put together a strong performance. The majority of the danger Clemson created was on set pieces, and they would finally put in a second goal on one of these opportunities in the 60th minute. This time it was Derek Waleffe who scored the goal, corralling a Wake clearance at the top of the box and sending it into the back of the net with the help of a huge deflection. This goal felt as if it was the dagger, and although Wake did put up a late fight that included a huge chance that Roald Mitchell was unable to put away, they couldn’t find a single goal to cut the deficit, giving Clemson a 2-0 win and a ticket to Cary. It was a weak performance from Wake to be sure, but Clemson executed absolutely wonderfully throughout the game, and a lot of that was down to my man of the match, Ousmane Sylla, who was absolutely everywhere during this game, putting in a strong defensive effort as well as giving an assist to Brandon Parrish’s goal.
The ACC Tournament ended with Syracuse ultimately winning the title, and now the focus has shifted to the biggest prize in the land. With the tournament field now set, Wake will be playing in a first round game for the second straight year after earning a bye to the second round every year since 2015. The Deacs got a trickier draw this year than they did last, as they’ll have to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes of the Big Ten conference. The Bucks have been a struggling program of late, having failed to make the NCAA Tournament since 2015. The transition from longtime coach John Bleum to Brian Maisonneuve had been a rough one, as the Buckeyes had posted a 17-41-5 record under Maisonneuve since his 2018 appointment. This year, though, they kicked it into higher gear, posting their first ten win season since 2015 and only their third since 2010. They’ve also picked up some impressive results, earning a tie against #16 Akron, a win against #13 Indiana, and a draw against Big Ten champions Rutgers. They’ve been a team that has been up for the big games this year, and they’ve been a very tricky team to beat. They really shine going forward, having scored 31 goals this season, having been shut out only twice and having scored multiple goals in 11 games. Wake will be hoping that their postseason experience and strong backline can carry them through this game, but Wake could have some serious trouble against an Ohio State team that has been ready for nearly every big moment that they’ve been in.
Kickoff is set for 6:00 tonight, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.