December 16, 2007 – The Wake Forest Demon Deacons captured their first ever National Championship in men’s soccer Sunday evening before a crowd of 8,000 fans at the SAS Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. However, it took everything the Deacons had to secure a come from behind 2-1 win over a very determined and talented Ohio State Buckeye team that saw its fifteen match unbeaten streak come to a halt.
The crowd on hand plus a national television audience anticipated an exciting match and the teams did not disappoint. This one had a little bit of everything including a little blood resulting from a cleat to the face of Wake Forest defender Julian Valentin which sent him to the sidelines with about ten minutes remaining in the match and required thirty stitches.
Ohio State got on the board first in the 13th minute of play out of a scramble in front of the goal that ended in Roger Espinoza collecting the rebound of teammate Doug Verhoff’s shot and driving it into the net. The goal was a momentum builder for a Buckeye team that came into the match with a 14-0-2 record when scoring first. Wake Forest continued to press the attack seeking to put together combinations of passes that would create scoring opportunities but Ohio State repeatedly thwarted the Deacon attempts by keeping sufficient numbers behind the ball. Although Wake Forest appeared to be the more active team on the offensive side of the ball in the first half of play the Buckeyes had a commanding 12 to 3 advantage in shots.
The Buckeyes continued to do an excellent job of getting numbers behind the ball in the second half and it seemed that despite their dominance in possession that Wake Forest might not be able to break the code of the strong Ohio State back line which featured All-American Eric Brunner, Doug Verhoff, Patrick Roan, and freshman Jordan Lomicki who replaced an injured Tim Gabel in the 20th minute of play.
The momentum shifted to Wake Forest in the second half of play when they began to effectively attack down the flanks opening the field of play and creating the space and matchups they needed to break through the Ohio State defense. The first Wake Forest score came out of an Ohio State defensive miscue in the back which enabled Demon Deacon sophomore forward Cody Arnoux to quickly push the ball down the right side of the field and cross the ball into teammate Marcus Tracy who controlled the pass and made a nice move to get past a Buckeye defender and rocket a shot into the net in the 66th minute of play to even the score at 1-1. The goal brought the large contingent of Wake Forest supporters on hand to their feet as the momentum shifted back toward the Deacs.
Tracy set up the game winning goal for Wake Forest with twelve minutes remaining in regulation when he quickly pushed the ball forward negotiating his way through the Ohio State defense before crossing the ball to sophomore forward Zack Schilawski who decisively drove it into the back of the net from ten yards out. Wake Forest had a golden opportunity to tally a third goal with five minutes remaining in the match but Tracy’s attempt was just barely wide of the mark. Ohio State had a corner with about a minute remaining in the contest but a solid save by Deacon keeper Brian Edwards thwarted the last Buckeye effort to knot the score.
The Wake Forest championship run has roots that can be traced back to the many teams that Deacon coach Jay Vidovich has put on the pitch during his fourteen years at the helm of the program and legendary coach Walt Chyzowych before him. However, the more immediate seed that produced the Deacons 2007 Championship run was likely planted on a very cold evening on December 2, 2006 in St. Louis, Missouri when Wake Forest was eliminated from the College Cup by eventual national champion UC Santa Barbara 4-3 in penalty kicks. The outcome of that contest, in which Wake Forest got the best of possession and the run of play for almost the entire game, was all about missed opportunities for Wake Forest. Despite the fact that the 2006 campaign was the most successful season up to that point in the history of the Wake Forest program, the way it ended left the Deacons eager to get back on the pitch in 2007 to seek the national championship that eluded them in 2006. They did just that and the rest is now history as they say.
Wake Forest entered the 2007 season with two major unanswered questions. The first was how they were going to replace the very talented midfield trio of Steven Curfman, Wells Thompson, and Ryan Solle. The second question was whether or not the Deacs would be hungry after the success they enjoyed in 2006. Both questions were quickly put to rest in 2007 as several young players quickly stepped up to the plate to fill the shoes of the departed players and as it became clear that the Deacons had their sights set on nothing less than winning the national title.
Wake Forest ends the 2007 season with a 21-2-2 record. Ohio State closes out the season with a 17-4-5 record and a season that has forever raised the bar of excellence for the program. John Bluem’s Buckeye’s looked to be a team on the ropes during the final week of September when they lost to Northwestern 4-0, tied Akron 1-1, and lost to Green Bay 1-0. But nothing could have been further from the truth. They regrouped as a team and did not sustain a loss in their next fifteen matches during which time they won the Big Ten Championship and made an NCAA Tourney run that included wins over Louisville, UC Santa Barbara, Bradley, and Massachusetts before giving Wake Forest a solid run for their money in the national championship contest.
The Wake Forest – Ohio State contest brings the curtain down on a very successful 2007 college soccer season. The atmosphere that surrounded the College Cup and the level of play was a tribute to those who were responsible for organizing the event, the programs at Massachusetts, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, and Wake Forest, and the health of college soccer in the United States. It’s now time to reflect on the 2007 season, enjoy the holiday season, and then begin to look forward to the 2008 season.