Men’s soccer shines on Senior Night

The victory gives the Demon Deacons a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament


Evan Harris

Wake Forest marches off of Spry Stadium after a dominant 3-0 win over ACC rival Louisville, to get a first-round bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament.

Matthew Kulynych, Staff Writer

The Wake Forest men’s soccer team finished off the regular season with a dominant 3-0 win over the No. 9 ranked Louisville Cardinals on Friday’s senior night game at Spry Stadium. The match would decide which of the two teams would claim a first-round bye in the ACC tournament, and with the victory, the Demon Deacons claimed the 4th seed and subsequent bye. The victory also improved Wake Forest’s record to 13-4-0 and 5-3-0 in conference play.

The night’s festivities started out with the recognition of the 2022-23 senior class. The team recognized five seniors: defender Sebastian Scrivner (21 career appearances), goalkeeper Cole McNally (18 appearances with 42 saves), midfielder Takuma Suzuki (59 appearances with 52 career starts), midfielder David Wrona (58 appearances with 14 career points), and midfielder Omar Hernandez (67 appearances with 12 goals and 14 assists, as well as a 2021 All-ACC Third Team selection). All five players were recognized on the field along with their families, and received framed jerseys accompanied by loud cheers from the Spry faithful.

The festivities would have to be temporarily put aside, as the Demon Deacons had a crucial match against ACC rival Louisville to focus on. The Cardinals came into the game with a 9-3-3 record and a No. 9 ranking in the United Soccer Coaches’ poll, so Wake Forest would have a tough test to end the regular season. Fortunately for the Demon Deacons, freshman midfielder Cooper Flax returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the 6-1 win over Clemson back in September, where he picked up an injury. Hosei Kijima was still out, being seen on the sidelines in crutches, but at least 1 major piece of a dominant Demon Deacon midfield had returned.

Louisville looked to assert themselves from the start, putting a high press on the Wake Forest backline when the Demon Deacons had possession. The first shot of the match would fall to Wake Forest just over five minutes into the match, though. Dynamic sophomore Baba Niang picked up the ball in the center circle, and dribbled past 3-4 Cardinal defenders with pace. His shot from the edge of the box fell harmlessly wide of the left post, but it set a precedent for what Niang would do all night long.

Louisville’s pressure almost led to the first goal just minutes later. Under pressure, goalkeeper Trace Alphin played a poor pass which was intercepted by a Louisville attacker at the top of the box. Fortunately for the Demon Deacons, the subsequent shot flew wide of the bottom right corner, but it was certainly a nervy moment for the defense.

Sophomore striker Roald Mitchell (right) celebrates a goal in the 67th minute. (Evan Harris)

Alphin made up for his earlier error with a big save in the 16th minute. A Louisville center back rose highest on a corner kick, but Alphin reacted quickly to push it wide of the post. Wake Forest would then clear and counter attack up the other end through Baba Niang. The winger’s dribbling had been causing all sorts of problems throughout the match so far, and in this instance, he picked the ball up at midfield and dribbled through an assortment of Louisville defenders, ultimately winning a corner of his own.

The game had been pretty back and forth in the first 20 minutes, but Wake Forest thoroughly controlled the final 20-or-so minutes of the first half. The best chance of the half came in the 26th minute through striker Roald Mitchell. Cooper Flax pinged a perfect long ball to Mitchell, who took it down with a perfectly soft touch. He was able to hold off and beat his defender and dribble into the box, but seemed to open up his hips just a little too much, as his shot from about 10 yards out was turned away. Wake Forest had a few more big chances before halftime but was unable to beat the Louisville keeper. 

The halftime whistle blew with the score still tied at zero, but the Demon Deacons would have felt as though they should have been in front. They held an 8-5 shot advantage and had the best chances, but nonetheless, the score remained level. Though Louisville’s high press had caused a few problems, Wake Forest was generally able to play around it either through the midfield or by sending long balls to the forwards.

The second half started a bit slow in terms of clear chances. Wake Forest dominated possession of the ball, but struggled to find space to get the shot away. Baba Niang got the first shot of the half in the 55th minute. He received a ball on the left side near the top corner of the box, and cut inside onto his right foot. Niang hammered a shot toward the top right corner, but it flew a couple of yards wide. Despite not yet being able to find the net, Niang had been probably the best player on the field, creating chances, winning free kicks, and dribbling through numerous Cardinal defenders.

Niang would be the one to find the opener in the 60th minute. Similar to his earlier chance, Mitchell received and controlled a perfectly placed long ball by Cooper Flax, this time taking him to the left side of the box. Realizing he was at a tough angle, Mitchell made the smart decision to lay the ball off to the onrushing Niang, who made a follow-up run from midfield. The in-form midfielder wasted no time, sending a first-time shot with his left foot into the top right corner to give the Demon Deacons a deserved lead. He was substituted after the goal, but Cooper Flax’s influence had been clear on the game. The freshman star created chance after chance and was a calm influence in midfield all game.

Just a few minutes later, Mitchell found his first goal since the 3-2 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson on Sept. 13 to give Wake Forest a 2-0 lead. An excellent bit of pressure from senior Takuma Suzuki led to a ball being popped into the air, which fellow senior David Wrona controlled perfectly off his chest on the right wing. He laid it off for right-back Cristian Escribano. The full back expertly dribbled through two defenders and passed it to Mitchell in the center of the box. The striker then pushed it onto his left and placed a shot into the bottom left corner beyond the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper. Mitchell exuberantly celebrated by putting on a Halloween mask from the crowd, visualizing how scary this Demon Deacon attack had been.

Leo Guarino put the game to bed in the 79th minute with a perfectly placed bicycle kick which gave two seniors an assist on a corner kick. Set-piece specialist Omar Hernandez floated the corner to the back post, where stalwart midfielder Takuma Suzuki won the header and sent it back into the center of the box. Striker Leo Guarino saw his opportunity for a spectacular goal, and he swung his leg to hit the bicycle kick into the bottom right corner. 

Wake Forest was able to celebrate all five seniors by bringing on goalkeeper Cole McNally, midfielder David Wrona, and defender Sebastian Scrivner to join Suzuki and Hernandez in the 86th minute. Scrivener was instantly involved, getting a yellow card in a scuffle that saw a Louisville player theatrically throwing himself to the floor just 8 seconds after coming onto the pitch. In the 90th minute, a chorus of “thank you seniors” bellowed out from the crowd to show appreciation for the seniors who had given four or more years to the program. 

The final whistle confirmed the dominant victory for the Demon Deacons, and sealed a first-round bye in the ACC tournament. This means the fixture could be repeated next Sunday November 6, as Wake Forest will host the winner of Wednesday’s first round game between Louisville and Virginia Tech.