Big expectations are nothing new to the highly successful Wake Forest men’s soccer program.
The fourth-ranked Deacons are deep, experienced and talented again this season for Coach Bobby Muuss. They will get their season going on Friday night at 6 p.m. at Spry Stadium against Central Florida in a much-anticipated opening game.
Muuss, however, won’t be on the sidelines or in the stands for the game. He will be serving a one-game suspension for a red card he drew in last year’s 1-0 loss in the NCAA tournament loss to Akron at Spry Stadium. A controversial off-sides call late in the game nullified what would have been the game-tying goal.
Muuss, who has been the ACC coach of the year all four seasons he’s been in Winston-Salem, has confidence in his two associate head coaches, Steve Armas and Dane Brenner, who will run the team in the opener.
“I have all the trust in the world in Steve and Dane, so we’ll be fine,” Muuss said.
The Deacons’ depth was on display in their two exhibition victories over Furman and Army. Muuss, however, was not happy with Army scoring two late goals thanks to some sloppy play.
“I saw a lot of ugly,” Muuss said after the win over Army. “We have a long way to go if we want to win some games in the best soccer conference in America.”
Muuss was encouraged with how far the Deacons have come in blending in the newcomers with veterans since practice began. Wake Forest lost four starters from last season, but senior goalie Andrew Cases Mundet, a three-year starter, along with veterans Joey DeZart and Holland Rula have been banged up during the preseason. It’s not known if the three will be available on Friday night.
If Mundet can’t play, Andrew Pannenberg, who started the exhibition against Army, likely will start in goal for the opener.
“We’ve gotten better, for sure,” Muuss said as he spoke about the overall preseason. “We put in some young guys to get some experience, and we don’t want a drop off, but that’s what happens. At the same time, when you put the jersey on and you step over the line, the level needs to be high.”
It might have been “just an exhibition game” to some Saturday night against Army, but Muuss was not happy with the 90-minute performance.
“We need to grow from this,” Muuss said. “We’re not as much worried about the attacking group right now. We need the defense to be better, and we know that.”
Judging from the Army exhibition game, sophomore Aristotle Zarris and junior Justin McMaster will have increased roles this season. Both had the ball in key moments in Saturday’s win.
“I thought today was Aristotle Zarris’ best performance in a Wake Forest uniform,” Muuss said after the game.
Veterans Michael DeShields, Eddie Folds and Alistair Johnston on defense along with attackers Bruno Lapa and midfielder Isaiah Parente give the Deacons plenty of experience. Also starting for the Deacons on Saturday were freshmen Nico Benalcazar on defense and Takuma Suzuki in the midfield.
“We’ll see (freshman) Calvin Harris come on more, and Machop Chol we expect big things from, and with Kyle Holcomb, we know what he can do,” Muuss said. “And Omar Hernandez I thought was good and he’s still trying to find his way as a freshman, so he’ll catch up with the speed of the game. Omar is a good player and he’ll grow confidence as he gets minutes.”
Zarris says he’s looking forward to helping the Deacons attempt to improve on their 18-3 record from last season. Over the last four seasons, Wake Forest and Muuss are 73-11-3 — the best record of any program over that span.
The Deacons also are the four-time defending Atlantic Division champions in the ACC.
“I think if we continue to keep working hard and do what the coaches want, we should be fine,” Zarris said. “I think we have guys that can fill those roles and get better.”
As for the compliment that Muuss threw around about Zarris’ play in the Army game, Zarris was happy to hear the recognition.
“It’s nice to hear, and it’s good to get that confidence boost like that,” he said. “What’s important is our team needs to play well, and I think we are a little disappointed in how that game ended with them getting those two goals like that.”
McMaster, who had six goals and four assists in 18 games last season, is confident about his ability to play with the ball more on the right side of the Deacons’ attacking offense.
“I’m very prepared to have the ball a little more,” McMaster said. “I enjoy that right side, and there’s some space out there, so it’s about making the right passes and being in position.”
The Deacons, who played Stanford in the national championship game in 2016, wouldn’t have to travel far if they make it to another College Cup this season. The College Cup, college soccer’s version of the Final Four, is scheduled for Cary in mid-December.
“We are a confident team,” McMaster said. “If we can stay disciplined, we have the talent to go a long way.”