Is 2019 the year the Wake Forest Demon Deacons return to the National Championship in men’s soccer? Four-time and reigning ACC Coach of the Year, Bobby Muuss, has all the building blocks for a championship team: experience, new talent, rising stars and a winning culture.
Over the past four years Wake Forest has had the best record of any program in the country, winning four ACC Atlantic titles, two ACC tournament titles and two Hermann Trophies (college soccer’s version of the Heisman). Despite the tremendous level of success, the Deacons have not won a National Championship since 2007. After a disappointing early playoff loss in the NCAA tournament in 2018, the question for 2019 is if the Deacs can rebound and get over the final hump to capture their first National Championship of the Muuss era.
Wake Forest lost four starters from last season including Hermann trophy semifinalist and ACC Offensive Player of the Year Omir Fernandez who signed with the New York Red Bulls. Fernandez had 12 goals and six assists for the Deacs in 2019 and dazzled spectators with his creative and imaginative play. Luckily for Wake Forest, they have developed a program that reloads, not rebuilds. Highlighting the freshman class is national Gatorade Player of the Year Omar Hernandez from Dalton, Ga. Hernandez scored 16 goals and had 17 assists in route to a state championship in his senior season.
Returning contributors for the Deacons include senior midfielder Bruno Lapa, who won the ACC Midfielder of the Year award last season and was a Hermann Trophy semifinalist. Lapa recorded 10 goals and nine assists in 2018 and is expected to be one of the top players in the country this upcoming season. On the defensive side, redshirt junior Michael DeShields is a key name to watch out for along with seniors Alistair Johnson and Eddie Folds. After starting 13 games last season, sophomore midfielder Aristotle Zarris is expected to take a larger role on the team and build on his freshman campaign in which he had five goals and five assists. Senior goalkeeper Andreu Cases Mundet, who previously played for FC Barcelona’s U19 team, is back for Wake Forest but has been banged up this preseason. If he is unable to play redshirt, sophomore Andrew Pannenberg is expected to start.
National preseason polls have the Deacs ranked fourth in the country (with 4 out of 27 first place votes) and as the highest ranked team in the ACC.
Overall, the ACC has four teams in the top 10 and six in the top 25. The ACC is widely considered to be the best conference in the country this upcoming season. In the ACC preseason coaches poll Wake Forest was picked to win the Atlantic division and received one vote to win it all. UNC received nine out of 12 first place votes, while Duke and Virginia each received a vote. Wake Forest faces tough competition on the journey for an ACC title, but if the past few years are any indication, the Deacs are up for the challenge.
Wake Forest played two games during the preseason winning both by one goal. The first game against Furman featured a thrilling finish as sophomore Kyle Newcomb scored with under five minutes left in the game to give the Deacs a 2-1 victory. Wake Forest’s first goal came off a corner kick in the 58th minute. Michael Deshields headed the ball into the net off of Omar Hernandez’s pass.
Wake Forest’s second game ended in a 3-2 victory over Army. The Deacs got off to a 3-0 lead after goals by Justin McMaster, Zarris and Lapa. The first two goals were scored within the first 10 minutes of the match while the last was scored in the 64th minute. Army answered back with two late goals including one with two minutes remaining in the game. While the preseason games were not overwhelming victories, they did provide a valuable experience for the team.
The Deacons open up the season on Friday night against UCF and open up ACC play on Sept. 13 against Pitt. With the combination of an accomplished head coach, returning stars and bright newcomers, the sky’s the limit for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and this very well may be the year they break through and win the ultimate prize.