Wake Forest might be the best soccer team in the country. The Demon Deacons came to Newton, Mass. and put five in the back of the net to beat Boston College. It was graceful, it was easy, it was la joga bonito wrapped up in a package of 90-minute goodness.
BC has been good this year, and even superb at times. The Eagles have a very young team with enormous potential, but they have a ways to go before they reach Wake’s level of play.
The thrashing at the hand’s of Wake Forest epitomizes the major problem for BC’s team: inexperience.
The two teams could not have looked more different. Wake Forest was composed, stringing together passes at will. BC was impatient, forcing balls and losing possession far too quickly.
The Eagles are better when they have the ball. It sounds like an odd and obvious statement, but it makes sense when you see BC and Wake Forest play. When BC has its lion share of possession, the talent takes over. A couple of passes creates the necessary space, and Trevor Davock, Simon Enstrom, or Zeiko Lewis can take over.
When they don’t have the ball often, as was the case against Wake, inexperience gets the best of them. When they finally win the ball back, they rush the counter-attack. They play long balls, force passes through the air, and almost always look forward instead of waiting and playing back. The talent wants to take over, but it’s forced out too soon, resulting in turnovers.
In an extreme example, Davock had the ball on the sideline with no defenders on him. He took one bad touch and then dribbled out of bounds. That’s inexperience at its core, comparable to a wide receiver dropping a pass because he is focusing on the juke he’ll make to beat his defender instead of seeing the ball into his hands.
The Demon Deacons were better than the Eagles not because of pure soccer skill—as in the ability to pick a corner of the goal or try Ronaldo-esque tricks—but because of mental superiority.
Wake’s style—passing and moving, keeping the ball on the ground—is a reflection of it’s ability to think. Any ACC team has the skill to make these passes, but only the best have the patience and mental stamina to go through a series of 10 short passes just to go 20 yards upfield.
While shouts of “take care of it” and “use it a little better next time” came from BC’s bench throughout the game, Wake Forest was already doing just that.
The Demon Deacons, and all their effortless give-and-go’s, represent the end goal for the Eagles. For the first time in a while, this ranked BC team looks like a real contender.
Despite all this inexperience, BC has started 6-3-1, a massive improvement over last year’s 5-8-3 record. They are currently ranked as high as No. 22 in various national soccer polls, and they are only powered by Zeiko and a bunch of sophomores and freshmen.
One look at Lewis, Enstrom, Davock, Len Zeugner, Henry Balf—nearly the whole squad, really—and it’s clear that they are a team for the future, one that is approaching rapidly.
Tactically, the 4-1-4-1 has looked like a major upgrade from past years, in which BC has utilized a 4-4-2. Abe Bibas fits perfectly as the one player in between the four midfielders and defenders. In the mold of Nigel de Jong, he has been outstanding in thwarting the attack. Meanwhile, Balf, who usually played the defensive role in last year’s diamond midfield, can focus more on setting the offensive tempo as the fulcrum of the formation. With these two in place, and Joshua Forbes or someone else alongside Balf, the attacking talent is free to get forward.
The Deacons did not expose any major flaws in BC’s coaching or formation. They were simply the better team, as Ed Kelly emphasized postgame. Using possession as their defense, they never let the Eagles into the game.
A combination of youth and a few injuries makes the possibility of matching Wake’s performance nearly impossible, as the Eagles do not have the full squad necessary to reach Wake’s all-around performance.
So, as it stands, the only thing holding them back is inexperience. Any program that only has to wait for young players to improve over time is on the right track, and with the current talent on the roster, the Eagles are on the fast track.
If BC can continue to bring in recruiting classes like this year, then this team can quickly progress to a point where it can start seriously looking at competing in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
It’s only a matter of time before BC can replicate Wake Forest’s magnificent display of the beautiful game.
Featured Image Courtesy Of John Quackenbos / BC Athletics