For the fifth consecutive season, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons men’s soccer team has received a top-four seed in the NCAA playoffs. Since the NCAA introduced seeding in 1994, the Deacs are the only program to have received five consecutive top-four seeds.
Heading into tournament play, the Deacs have a record of 13-4-2. After a disappointing 1-0 loss in the ACC semifinals against the University of Virginia, Wake Forest is looking to make a run in the playoffs.
The Demon Deacons are led by First Team All-ACC midfielder Bruno Lapa, who finished the season with a team-high seven goals and 17 points. Other names to watch out for include freshman sensation Calvin Harris, who scored six goals on the season, and sophomore Kyle Holcomb who also had six scores.
One of Wake Forest’s key playmakers is junior forward Machop Chol, who led the team with seven assists. Additionally, junior Justin McMaster, who had four goals and an assist this season, will be a key player to watch in the postseason. In addition to Lapa earning First Team All-ACC honors, Chol, defender Alistair Johnson, goalie Andrew Pannenberg and midfielder Isaiah Parente all earned Third Team All-ACC honors. Harris was named to the All-ACC freshman team.
As a team, Wake Forest finished third in the ACC in goals scored per game with two and second in the conference in goals allowed per game with an average of .67 per match. Their average per game scoring differential of 1.33 was third best in the ACC, which was .77 greater than the fourth best.
Wake Forest had a strong regular season and conference tournament run that will set them up well for the NCAA playoffs. The ACC is widely considered to be the best soccer conference in the country, and three of the top four seeds in the NCAA tournament are from the ACC (UVA as the No. 1 seed, Clemson as the No. 2 seed, and Wake Forest as the No. 4 seed). The Deacs hope that their difficult schedule so far will prepare them well for the tournament.
They will open up NCAA tournament play on Sunday night at Spry Stadium against the winner of Maryland and Iona. Although Maryland is a low seed in the tournament this year, they won the national championship last season with a 1-0 victory over Akron. Wake Forest was upset by Akron in the third round of the tournament that same year.
Despite Maryland’s success last year, if the Terrapins and Deacs square off, the Deacs will likely be the favorite to win. Playing the game at Spry Stadium will provide a solid advantage for the Demon Deacons. The loud atmosphere and high attendance levels give the Deacs one of the best home-field advantages in the sport.
If Wake Forest can get by Maryland or Iona, they will face Wright State, Notre Dame or Michigan. Of those teams, Wake Forest has only played Notre Dame, who they lost to 1-0. Michigan, as the No. 13 seed, is the favorite of the three to play the Deacs. Michigan finished the season with an 11-4-5 record and lost to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game in a penalty kick shootout after the match ended in a 0-0 draw.
If Wake Forest wins, they would likely play Big Ten Champion Indiana in the quarterfinal round before having the chance to travel to Cary, N.C., for the College Cup semifinals and finals. ACC teams are predicted to make up multiple teams in the final four and the Deacs hope to be one of them.
Wake Forest has the talent and skill to win the tournament this year for the first time since 2007. The question will be if they can execute at the high level they have demonstrated at their best.