The Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team (13-4, 5-3 ACC) closed out their regular season last week, ending the year with wins in two of their last three to secure an eighth straight season with at least 13 wins and a home ACC Tournament game. The first of the two wins came at home against the Wofford Terriers of the SoCon (6-9-2), who the Deacs dispatched in relatively comfortable fashion by a 3-0 score line. This game served mainly as a tune-up for a huge ranked clash that weekend, however, as Wake then traveled to face now #14 UVA (9-4-3, 5-1-2 ACC). It was a frustrating game, as the Deacs struggled to a 1-0 defeat, dropping their third ACC game of their last four. The regular season drew to a climactic close following this, as the Deacs upset the now #11 Louisville Cardinals (9-5-3, 4-3-1 ACC) in a blowout, dominating a then top ten team by a 3-0 score. It was a return to form for the Deacs ahead of the postseason, and now they are in a position to make a run at some silverware. But before looking ahead to that, let’s look back at Wake’s last few games.
First, on October 18th, the Deacs faced off against a Wofford team that was in the midst of a tough season. The Deacs were coming off of an important ACC win against Boston College, and they began this game much in the same way that they finished off that one. An early onslaught would yield a goal for Wake in the 14th minute. A save by Wofford keeper Victor Cameron on a Ryan Fessler free kick deflected out to Vlad Walent, who would get two attempts to drive the ball across and connect with Garrison Tubbs on the second, and the captain would make no mistake in putting the ball into the net. It was a good start for Wake, but the game evened out a bit in the final 30 minutes of the first half, with Wake still largely possessing the ball but finding it difficult to create big chances. Wofford had some opportunities out on the break, but didn’t create all that much, leaving the score at 1-0 at half.
The second half began with a big moment for the Deacs, who doubled their lead in the 49th minute. This time it was the press that created a goal for Wake, as Takuma Suzuki would win the ball high up the field and send it through to Oscar Sears, who had a 2v1 chance. Sears would take on his defender and get by him, smashing the ball at the near post for his sixth goal of the season. With this goal, Wake all but sealed it, and would begin to rotate in some of their reserve players to close the game out. A third goal would come in the 90th minute, when a gorgeous passing play set up Leo Guarino to slide the ball into the back of the net to ice the game. It was ultimately a thorough win for the Deacs, largely powered by a strong performance in the middle by my man of the match, Takuma Suzuki, who didn’t have the best start to the game but finished very strongly in the second half.
Wake was carrying some momentum heading into what was a #25 vs #24 clash with UVA, but they encountered much tougher opposition in Charlottesville than they had at Spry the last two games. The first half was a very even, cagey affair, with Wake having the better of proceedings, but very narrowly, giving up very little but making some poor decisions in the final third. It was 0-0 at half, but the momentum would switch in the second, with UVA getting the better of the play but still with very few chances. They would find a goal to take the lead, though. In the 63rd minute, a flick on from a goal kick found Philip Horton up the field. Horton slid through Leo Afonso, who then slid it into the back of the net beyond Trace Alphin to give the ‘Hoos the lead. It was a huge goal for UVA that gave them a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish, as Wake’s late push came up short, and UVA earned a huge 1-0 win in the ACC. It is hard to pick out one man of the match in this game, as UVA’s team followed their gameplan to a T and executed in every facet of the game to get a result. For me, Philip Horton was the man of the match, as he was dangerous when the ‘Hoos did get forward and had the game winning assist on Leo Afonso’s goal.
The UVA game seemed like one that would take the air out of Wake’s sails entirely, but they responded incredibly well the next weekend, as they took on the then #9 Louisville Cardinals. Wake came out and looked altogether different than they had in the last few months, showing a new energy that had Louisville against the ropes early. The Deacs dominated the first 45 minutes, but they just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net despite some great chances. When halftime came around, Wake and the Cards were still all knotted up, and there was a worry that the same level of energy couldn’t continue for the Deacs. However, the Deacs came out and played just as well as they had in the first 45 minutes, and this time they were rewarded. It was Baba Niang who opened the scoring for Wake in the 60th minute, set up by Roald Mitchell at the top of the box. The second goal didn’t follow far behind, as in the 67th minute Mitchell got in on the scoring with a left footed effort from the top of the box after he cut in from the right wing. Suddenly, Wake was up by a 2-0 score against a top ten opponent, and they showed no signs of stopping. The Deacs iced the game in the 79th minute with what was likely their goal of the season, as Leo Guarino would score a bicycle kick on a corner to get the Deacs up by three and turn this from a great result into a dominant one. Bobby Muuss would put all of his seniors on the field in the last ten minutes, as the Deacs would victory lap their way through the final moments of a top ten win. For me, the man of the match was clear despite Wake’s excellent team performance; Roald Mitchell finally saw his return to form, scoring one and setting up another in what was one of his best games this season.
With their win against Louisville, the Deacs flip-flopped with them in the standings, moving up into fourth in the conference and earning a bye through the first round of the ACC Tournament. The Cards were forced into a first round ACC game as a result, and they would be stunned at home by last-placed Virginia Tech in that game. The Hokies will be the team coming to Spry today as a result. Virginia Tech (3-13-1, 1-8 ACC) are currently having one of their worst seasons in recent memory, struggling to a paltry three wins after participating in each of the last six NCAA Tournaments. They finished the regular season winless in the ACC, having been shutout in each of their final seven conference games. Somehow, though, they found two goals to sink the Cards on the road, defeating them by a 2-1 scoreline in Louisville. While it may seem like a gift for the Deacs to face the Hokies at home this week, it is not as if this is a total walkover game for them. In their earlier meeting this year, the Deacs were held in check for a large part of the game in Blacksburg, ultimately finding an early second half goal through Colin Thomas to take the result, albeit after leaving a few more chances on the field in the process. Anything can happen in the postseason, and while Mike Brizendine’s Hokies have often struggled in the postseason, this year’s team knows that its next loss will end its season.
Kickoff is set for 2:00 at Spry and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.