Playing for the first time since entering the national polls ranked No. 24, the Elon University men’s soccer team followed up its win over highly-touted University of North Carolina Wilmington with a 1-0 win over No. 9 Wake Forest University, generally regarded as one of the best teams in the country.
“Wake is a very, very good team,” Powell said. “They’re one of the premier teams in the country and we have a lot of respect for them. We had to set ourselves up to give ourselves a chance against a very talented team and I’m very proud of the way our guys executed the game plan and were able to come out on top.”
Neither team could find the back of the net in the first half, though both squads had quality chances.
The Phoenix had the first look at goal when junior forward Jason Waterman was given a beautiful ball over the top of the Demon Deacon defense, but failed to capitalize on his one-on-one opportunity with Wake sophomore goalkeeper Andrew Harris. Waterman’s first touch was too hard, and the ball went right to Harris, who ended the threat.
A minute later, it was the Demon Deacons who were on the attack. Senior forward Luca Gimenez took a pass just outside the box, took a touch and fired a rocket that junior goalkeeper Nathan Dean was able to deflect over the crossbar.
It was the Demon Deacons’ opportunity in the 31st minute, however, that was the closest to breaking the tie.
Demon Deacons’ junior forward Sean Okoli received a long ball from the center line, dribbled down the right side of the field, took a touch to his left and fired a laser right at Dean. He deflected it to the waiting feet of Gimenez, who’s rebound was also turned away by Dean.
Then, just 29 seconds into the second half, the Demon Deacons gave the ball away and sophomore forward Caue Da Silva took it the other way, dribbling down the right side before finding senior midfielder Matt Wescoe in the middle of the field. Wescoe found fellow senior midfielder Daniel Lovitz on his left, who took a touch to get around his man and then fired a laser past Harris and into the right side of the goal, giving the Phoenix a 1-0 lead.
“[Wake Forest] had some mishap in the middle of the field and the ball popped out to us,” Lovitz said of the play leading up to his goal. “I was on one-on-one with my defender and I got a little clearance from him wide, and was able to get the ball from [Wescoe]. He knew exactly where I wanted it and I just wanted to make sure my first touch got by [the defender] and that my shot was hard and low to the opposite corner. Usually when you do those things you’re going to score most times.”
The Phoenix then “anchored down,” as Lovitz said, for the rest of the game, using the counterattack to keep the Demon Deacons honest.
In the last 20 minutes, however, Wake Forest threw caution to the wind and sent everyone onto the Phoenix’s side of the field. Despite the all out assault on its goal, Elon held firm behind the stellar goalkeeping of Dean, who made several game-saving plays in the closing stretch.
“We know what to expect form Wake, they’re such a good technical side,” Dean said. “They keep the ball so well. But we knew if we kept [our defense] tight and keep everyone behind the ball as well as we could, that we were going to make it difficult for them to create shots. They’re not the kind of team that likes to shoot from far away, they like to get in close to you.”
The Phoenix were able to hold on, moving to 2-0 on their current four game homestand. It’s a stretch Lovitz said is vital to the team’s success moving forward, especially playing for an extended period of time in front of their passionate fanbase, which seems to be getting bigger with every game.
“This is what we play for. We play to play on this field,” Lovitz said. “We walk by it everyday. There’s nothing like being on it in the fall with everyone around. It’s really an incredible atmosphere. Every time you drop your head for a second everyone in the crowd that knows you by name, is picking you up. I can’t speak enough about what that does for a player on the field.”
The team will continue their homestand on Friday night against the College of William & Mary, who is riding high after its startling upset of No. 1 Creighton University. The game is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. following the Elon women’s game at 5 p.m. against Liberty University.