“The Virginia Cavaliers head to Cary, North Carolina for yet another appearance in the College Cup this weekend.”
That is a sentence that you could cut and paste from each of Virginia Soccer’s last two national title campaigns. After dispatching a scrappy SMU team in the quarterfinal, this year’s Cavaliers group will head to the Cup as the favorite to bring home the program’s eighth (!!!) national championship.
Before we take a look at Virginia’s first opponent in the College Cup—Wake Forest—let’s catch up those of you who haven’t been paying attention to our heroes so far this season.
Defense Wins Championships
Virginia boasts the nation’s best defensive unit, and it’s not even close. They have been absolutely dominant to lead the country in every major statistical category—15 shutouts, .402 GAA, 9 total goals against—and it didn’t happen just by accident. The center-back tandem of Henry Kessler, a semi-finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, and Andres Ueland are the best in the game and perfectly suited to complement one another. Kessler is the enforcer on the field, while Ueland is happy to pick up the pieces, provide cover, and distribute the ball with tremendous quality. Pair them together and you have the foundation for a team that has limited its opponents to an average of fewer than three shots on goal per game.
Oh, and by the way, they’ve both played every second this season.
Speaking of consistency, the Hoos’ second semi-finalist for MAC Hermann trophy, Joe Bell, has only missed two games this season. Those two misses were while he was representing New Zealand’s FULL Men’s National Team on the international stage. The most complete player in college soccer, Bell serves as a metronome in midfield. As SMU found in the last round when he bagged a couple goals, he is capable of finding the back of the net, yet his true value is in his ability to playmake from a deep midfield spot. The game flows through his (absurdly talented) feet and he has a knack for dictating the pace of play for both teams. He is the lynchpin for Virginia and it’s almost always the case that how he goes, so do the Cavaliers. That being said, UVA’s 20 wins this year will give you a pretty good gist how Joe Bell has gone this season.
Without question Daryl Dike is the Cavaliers’ most improved player in 2019. Simply put, the dude is a unit. The 6-2, 220 pound center forward paces the team with 7 goals and 8 assists. While 22 points is pretty legit, those stats don’t even begin to tell the full story—he is way more valuable than that.
The threat Dike poses through his physical gifts and incredibly soft feet is unlike any other in the college game. He unsettles every defensive player unlucky enough match up with the Oklahoman and he has drawn seven penalty kicks on the year, including two last round against the Mustangs. The big question mark is not whether Dike will have chances this weekend, it is whether or not he will put them in the back of the net. If he does, it is going to be a fun weekend.
Scouting Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons have been the best team in college soccer over the last five years. They punched their ticket to Cary via an Alistair Johnson goal on a sensational individual effort, knocking off the tournament’s last remaining Cinderella in UC-Santa Barbara, 1-0.
Led by reigning first team All-American and 2018 ACC Midfielder of the Year Bruno Lapa, this year’s is another fantastic Wake Forest team (duh). While Lapa is good (like really good), this is a complete team in which, much like Virginia, you would be hard pressed to find a weak spot.
The Deacs, to their credit, play an extremely attractive brand of soccer that will lead to a highly entertaining game with Virginia. The only meeting between these two teams in 2019 happened at Klockner Stadium just a few weeks ago in the ACC semifinals—a game Virginia dominated start to finish and won 1-0 thanks to a 24th minute goal from Junior, Nathaniel Crofts.
The key matchup in this one will be Daryl Dike and the Wake center back pairing of Michael Deshields and Nico Benalcazar. Wake has rotated a few names to play alongside Deshields this season and in all likelihood the winner of the many duels between Virginia’s Dike and Wake Forest’s freshman, Benalcazar, will be headed to the National Championship Game.
No. 3 Georgetown takes on No. 7 Stanford Friday at 6:00 p.m. ET, and No. 1 Virginia and No. 4 Wake will take the pitch at 8:30 p.m. ET. You’ll be able to watch both matches on ESPNU.