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The Grind Begins. Conference Play Gets Underway This Weekend In The Atlantic Coast Conference

It’s that time of the year when the teams in the ACC start beating up on each other. Six key ACC contests are on tap this weekend with the results having implications in the conference and on the national scene.

Wake Forest (4-0-0) at Pittsburgh (1-2-1)Friday – At first glance this one should be all Wake Forest but Pitt could surprise the Deacons. There are no easy wins in ACC play. The Demon Deacons will no doubt apply pressure that will likely take a toll on Pitt as the contest progresses.  But the Panthers, who remain a work in progress, have been explosive at times for portions of games as reflected in their two-goal lead over Indiana in Bloomington that ended in a 3-2 loss in overtime and a 3-1 advantage over Delaware that ended in a 3-3 tie. They also have a 3-0 win over Liberty.

This is Wake Forest’s first contest on the road this year.  If Pitt can put together a full ninety minutes of play and keep Wake Forest from dominating the run of play in the middle third then this one could be very interesting.

Duke (4-0-0) at Virginia (3-0-0)Friday – Duke has a potent attack led by Daniele Proch (5g, 0a) but Virginia has a defense that has not allowed a goal in three games and looks to be among the most difficult in the country to break down.

Duke topped Virginia 2-0 last year in Charlottesville when they came out strong and took control of the contest in the early going. Look for the Blue Devils to seek to do the same this year by using their speed on the flanks to open the field of play and create seams that they can exploit in the Cavalier defense. Virginia will seek to keep their shape on the defensive side of the ball and judiciously take advantage of opportunities to attack that come their way. 

This contest has traditionally been determined by a single goal. That may not prove to be the case this year but nonetheless whoever scores first will have a big advantage in terms of setting the pace of the contest. If Duke has to chase Virginia from behind, they will be in trouble. 

This one could go either way but all things considered, the experience the Duke upperclassmen (Daniele Proch, Brandon Williamson, Max Moser, Sergi Nus, Hassan Pinto, Matthias Frick, and Will Pulisic among others) bring to the pitch should give the Blue Devils the edge they need to prevail at home over a very talented but still relatively young Virginia team.

Clemson (4-0-0) at Notre Dame (3-0-0)Friday – This one is an intriguing “something has to give” contest. Clemson has displayed a red-hot multi-dimensional attack led by Kimarni Smith, Robbie Robinson, Grayson Barber and Adrian Nunez that has produced a total of twenty-one goals in four contests. However, the Tigers have not yet faced a team that is as solid on the defensive side of the ball as Notre Dame. This is also their first game of the season on the road. 

The Irish led by sophomore forward Jack Lynn (3g, 0a) have found the back of the net eight times in three contests. The Irish are particularly dangerous out of set pieces. However, Notre Dame could have trouble finding the back of the net against a Clemson defense that has only allowed two goals to date.    

Both teams will attack but this one is going to come down to which team is able to settle into a rhythm and find an appropriate balance between offensive productivity and defensive effectiveness.  Clemson will push the attack but must do so in a manner that does not leave them vulnerable on the defensive side of the ball. The Irish will have to contain the Tiger attack but must do so while maintaining an opportunistic offense.

This one is up for grabs and should be a great college soccer match. 

North Carolina (2-1-1) at Virginia Tech (4-0-0)Friday – The Tar Heels entered the season with some reloading to do on the defensive side of the ball due to the departure of goalkeeper James Pyle and backs Alex Comsia and John Nelson which likely contributed to a season opening 2-2 tie with Creighton and a 2-1 loss at home to UCF.  Creighton and UCF were very competitive opponents but it is worth noting that the four goals the Tar Heels allowed in their first two games equaled forty percent of the total goals UNC allowed last year.  The Tar Heels are loaded on the offensive side of the ball with junior forward Alex Rose currently leading the way with four goals and two assists. This is a good North Carolina team but the jury is still out in regard to their play on the defensive side of the ball.  

Virginia Tech has wins on the road over Loyola Marymount 2-1, UCSB 3-1, Loyola (Md) 2-1 and Hofstra 4-3. This is an experienced and hardworking Hokie squad. Junior Kristo Strickler (3g, 1a) powers a Virginia Tech offense that has scored eleven goals while senior backs Jon Ingason and Will Mejia and junior goalkeeper Mathijs Swaneveld anchor a bend but don’t break Hokie defense. 

Momentum will be important in this one. The team that is forced to play off their backfoot could be in for a long evening. 

Boston College (4-0-0) at North Carolina State (2-1-1) – Saturday – Ed Kelly’s Boston College team is off to an impressive start with wins over Quinnipiac 2-0, Boston University 1-0, Rhode Island 2-1 and Holy Cross 3-2.  This is a young Eagle team with freshmen forward Stefan Sigurdarson (1g, 2a), midfielders Mike Suski (1g, 1a) and Amos Shapiro-Thompson (2g, 0a), back Victor Souza and goalkeeper Giacomo Piccardo in key roles.  

George Kiefer’s Wolfpack squad has had a good but somewhat disappointing start to the season with wins over Loyola (Md) and Longwood, a loss to St. John’s and a tie with William and Mary.   Boston College could pull off the win but chances are pretty good that North Carolina State’s experience, the home field advantage, and the play of Wolfpack midfielder David Loera will give the Pack the edge that they need to open ACC play with a victory.

Louisville (2-1-1) at Syracuse (1-1-2) – Friday – This one is intriguing because it is hard to get a handle on Louisville due to inconsistency in the level of their play and Syracuse looks to be a team that is experiencing a learning curve.  

Louisville opened the season with a disappointing 2-2 tie at home with Cleveland State. They then topped Kentucky 3-0 to secure their first win over the Wildcats since 2015 despite having to play a man down for the final thirty-three minutes of the match.  Louisville then topped Florida Atlantic 3-0 on the road before losing 2-0 to South Florida in Tampa.

The Cardinals look to be a team that is still trying to sort out their own identity. Resolve that and this team is going to win a lot of games. Midfielder Cherif Dieye and forward Emil Elveroth are among those who look to be keys to the Louisville attack.  Goalkeeper Jake Gelnovatch and back Cody Cochran are the guys who can bring stability and consistency to the defense.  

Syracuse is going through growing pains of their own with a number of new faces in key roles. The Orange opened the year with a 3-1 loss on the road to Georgetown. They then topped Binghamton 3-1 at home followed by a 1-1 tie with Yale and a 2-2 tie with New Hampshire. If this team jells, they are going to be very good.

The winner of this contest will be the team that is able to put together a full ninety minutes of play.  Both have had trouble putting together two good halves. In their last contest, Louisville dug themselves into a hole from which they were unable to recover when they allowed South Florida to score twice within the first nineteen minutes of the match. In their last game, Syracuse jumped out to a 2-0 lead over New Hampshire but had to settle for a tie when they allowed two goals in the second half.





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