The No. 2 Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team (5-0, 1-0) continued their white hot start to the season, dominating Winthrop (0-4) and NC State (2-1-1, 0-1) at Spry. Both games were comfortable for Wake, but in different ways. Winthrop was a thorough beating, with Wake coming out of the gates with some early goals to put the game to bed in a hurry. The NC State game, however, Wake just suffocated the Pack, holding the ball for the vast majority of the game and giving up just about nothing while converting a couple of their chances. They’re a solid pair of results for Wake, who continue to show why they have shot up the rankings from 15 to 4 so early on in this season. They’ll look to stay there this week with a pair of games on the docket, the first coming on Tuesday night at home against Fairleigh Dickinson and the second being their first ACC road test, as they’ll travel to Blacksburg, VA to take on Virginia Tech. But before we look ahead to those games, let’s take a look back at the two wins Wake picked up last week.
On Tuesday night, Wake hosted the Winthrop Eagles of the Big South in their final game before the start of the ACC season. The Eagles wouldn’t pose much of a challenge, losing 5-1 and giving the Deacs their largest margin of victory yet this season. Wake jumped all over Winthrop, netting three goals within the first 20 minutes. Roald Mitchell opened the scoring and his account for this season in the 11th minute, getting on the end of a Colin Thomas ball across the six yard box and tapping it in. Wake continued to ramp up the pressure on a Winthrop team that looked ill prepared for it, and they were rewarded with a second goal in the 17th minute, as Aiden Williams would be forced into bad turnover by Roald Mitchell and Cristian Escribano, leaving Mitchell to run into nothing but space against a sole defender, squaring it across for Hosei Kijima for his second goal of the season. Wake’s press was once again rewarded with a goal in the 19th minute, as Winthrop keeper Sam Jones played a disastrous ball right to Cooper Flax at the top of the box, with the freshman taking the ball into the area and playing it inside to Roald Mitchell, who would tap it in for his second goal of the night. The game settled into a short dead period after the third goal, with the Deacs continuing to control the game but settling for possession rather than pushing for a fourth goal. That fourth goal would come, though, as, in the 37th minute, Leo Guarino would have a shot deflected and popped into the air. Sidney Paris would flick it on to Julian Kennedy, who was all alone inside the six yard box at the back post to slam it into the roof of the net. It was a pair of first on this play, a first Wake Forest assist for Sidney Paris and a first goal of the season for Julian Kennedy. This would be the final action of consequence before the half, and Wake would take a four goal lead going into the break.
The Deacs continued to control proceedings in much the same manner that they had in the last 25 minutes of the first half, holding the ball and playing patiently, looking for openings if they came, but largely holding the ball and choking out any Winthrop attacks before they could develop. The Eagles would find a goal, however, as in the 64th minute, Aiden Stanley would receive the ball on the right flank, and turning beyond Jahlane Forbes before getting near the outside edge of the box and smashing one goalwards, over the head of Trace Alphin, off of the underside of the bar and into the back of the net. It was a gorgeous goal for Stanley, but it would be little more than consolation as Wake continued to control proceedings. They’d find yet another goal in the 84th minute from the penalty spot, as Roald Mitchell would be ripped down in the area by Patrick Bramlett. Mitchell stepped up to take the penalty that he’d won and made no mistake, sending Sam Jones the wrong way to put the finishing touches on his first career hat trick and a dominant win for the Deacs.
There were a slew of good performances in what was a thorough team win for Wake. Hosei Kijima looked like he usually did, active, aggressive, and positive with the ball, scoring one and setting up another in this game. Cooper Flax had what was likely his best game in his young Wake career, looking sharp in the buildup and in the press, earning an assist in this one. Colin Thomas also had a sharp game on the right flank looking lively and active in the press, also picking up an assist. But the real star of the show in this one was Roald Mitchell. Mitchell has had a tough start to his season this year, letting a couple of chances go begging in the first few games. In this game, he was able to put the chances he got away, registering a hat trick by getting into good spots and finishing chances off, which is what has been expected of him since his arrival on campus. If this can be the kickstart for his season that he needs, Wake could become an even more dangerous team going forward.
Later in the week, Wake opened up their ACC slate with a Saturday night game at Spry against the NC State Wolfpack. State was undefeated to this point, earning wins over Wofford and Loyola Maryland as well as a draw against Mercer, a tournament team last year. Wake presented a very different challenge for the Pack, however, as the Deacs controlled much of the flow of the game early while State looked to get out on the break when Wake did give up the ball. However, this plan would fall to pieces in the 15th minute, when Takuma Suzuki slid a ball through the defense to Jahlane Forbes on the left flank. Forbes tried to put the ball across but lofted it over and out. However, Calem Tommy caught Forbes on the follow through with a sliding challenge, giving the Deacs a penalty. Roald Mitchell once again stepped up to take the penalty, before which things would go from bad to nightmarish for the Pack. There was a bit of pushing and shoving at the edge of the area before the kick could be taken, from which Cooper Flax came out holding his ankle. The center official went to the monitor to check for a potential red card, and ultimately awarded one to NC State’s Alex Bautista, who had driven his studs into the back of Flax’s ankle, which was very clear on the replay. So State were left down a man with 75 minutes to go, and they were left down a goal when Mitchell deposited his penalty for his fourth goal of the week.
The rest of the game followed the same script that most Wake games do when the Deacs are up a man. The Deacs became hyper patient, possessing the ball for pretty much the entirety of the remainder of the game, not really pushing at all for another goal unless an opportunity presented itself. State settled into a low block, putting all ten players within their own 35 to try and mitigate the numerical disadvantage. While it did keep Wake from creating a whole lot, it prevented them from getting forward in any meaningful way. The Pack were getting outworked for second balls as well, which essentially doomed them to be stuck in their own half for the rest of the game. The Deacs would mercifully put the finishing touches on this one in the 79th minute, as a goal kick that went straight to the head of Leo Guarino, who would send it up to Julian Kennedy, who took the ball down off his thigh and left it for Ryan Fessler, who went on an incredible run, undressing Pablo Pedregosa and playing it to the feet of David Wrona streaking into the right side of the box. Wrona dragged it along the ground across goal and into the side netting to double Wake’s advantage and put the game to bed. The final whistle blew after a frustrated goal kick out of bounds by Lucas Hatsios, giving Wake their first conference win of the season.
Picking out a man of the match in this one is so difficult because, essentially, Wake faced no adversity. They were doing passing drills for 75 minutes, rotating a lot of players in and out of the game. The backline had a good game, particularly Jahlane Forbes who continued to lock down that left side as he had all season. Roald Mitchell had another solid game up top, scoring and pressing well. Julian Kennedy also had a solid shift, coming in and holding the ball up pretty well in this game. For me, Hosei Kijima was the player of this game, though. He just dominated in the middle of the field, winning second balls almost every time, and showing that he could contribute in possession as well. It was the team performance that took center stage for Wake in this one though, as they scored the goal that they needed early and saw the game out with no hiccups.
With the Deacs still perfect heading into the fourth week of the season, they’ll be hopeful to take a still perfect record into week five, where a mammoth clash with defending national champions Clemson looms large. In their way stand Fairleigh Dickinson and Virginia Tech, two teams that will be hoping for wins for very different reasons. First, the Deacs will host the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (2-2-1) tonight at 7:00. The Knights program is one that, historically, has won a lot of games. In recent years, they’ve settled into a bit of mediocrity however, posting near .500 records but typically taking care of business in the Northeastern conference. Their most recent NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2019, when they went 7-9-3 but won the NEC title on penalties against LIU. They took a step back during the 2020-21 spring-and-fall season, but last season went 8-7-3 and 6-1-2 in conference. This is closer to the typical season they’ve had under head coach Seth Roland, who is now in his 26th season at the helm of the program. Roland has the ninth most wins all time among active coaches in Division I. During his time at Fairleigh Dickinson, he’s amassed a 226-188-66 record, as well as a 115-60-37 record in the NEC, good for the most wins all time in that conference. They’re off to a solid start this season, earning a draw against Army and wins against Lafayette and Navy, but they’ve lost their last two games to UMBC and Seton Hall. They’ll come into this game looking for a statement win to right the ship and prepare for another run at a conference title.
On Saturday, they’ll make the short trip up north to Blacksburg for their second conference matchup of the season, a duel with the Virginia Tech Hokies (0-4-1). To put it plainly, VT is off to a horrendous start. After a pair of tough losses to start the season against Grand Canyon and No. 25 UCLA, it looked like VT could settle into a groove against weaker competition. However, their bad start continued, as they tied Radford and lost 3-2 to Mercer to drop out of the Virginia Tech Tournament, then following those results up with a loss in the Commonwealth Clash against UVA by a 4-2 score. It’s been a frustrating start for a Virginia Tech team that were ranked as high as No. 5 last season, but with the losses of key players like last year’s top scorer Jacob Labovitz and Pol Monells, they’ve started very weakly this year. It’s a frustrating start for head coach Mike Brizendine, who has taken this Virginia Tech program from being an afterthought to being a tournament regular, making each of the last six NCAA Tournaments. Prior to the start of Brizendine’s tenure, VT had made only four tournament appearances. As it stands right now, though, the Hokies are behind the eight ball, and in desperate need of a big win for their résumé. Despite their tough start, a matchup against a team in desperate need of a win with a coach who has a knack for getting results against top opponents is a tough proposition for the Deacs.
Kickoff for tonight’s game against FDU is set for 7:00, while Saturday night’s game in Blacksburg is set for a 7:30 kickoff. Both games will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra and will be available on ESPN+.