Virginia will head down to Winston-Salem, N.C. on Sunday to play the South Region No. 1 seed Wake Forest in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The Cavaliers (2-3-1, 2-3-1 ACC) come into the tournament as the No. 4 seed from the North Region and will aim to repeat as ACC champions by first taking down the No. 1 seed Demon Deacons (5-1, 7-1 ACC).
The ACC Tournament consists of an eight-team bracket with quarterfinal games being played across North Carolina on Sunday, semifinal games on Wednesday and the championship on Nov. 22 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. With the top five teams in the nation all playing in the ACC Tournament, it should be very competitive and exciting to watch.
Virginia and Wake Forest did not meet in this year's shortened regular season. Last season, the Cavaliers and Demon Deacons faced off twice, once in the ACC Tournament and once in the College Cup, with the Cavaliers winning both games by one goal. Virginia holds a dominant all-time series lead versus Wake Forest with a record of 18-0-5 and will look to repeat last year’s successes and defeat the Demon Deacons to advance to the ACC semifinal.
Virginia faces a difficult path to defend their title as ACC champions. The Cavaliers are coming off a disappointing loss to rival Virginia Tech for the first time in 15 years and have struggled throughout the season, winning only two games, both at home. Virginia will travel to face a strong Wake Forest team that has won four games in a row to end its regular season and clinched the top-seed in the South Region. This Virginia team is very different from the team that won the ACC Tournament last year — however, Wake Forest is not unbeatable and the Cavaliers have a chance to pull off the upset and keep their hopes of a repeat title alive.
Keys to the Game
The Virginia defense has been one of the team's strengths this season and has kept the Cavaliers close in multiple games. During the regular season, Virginia ranked 11th in the nation in goals against average at 1.17 goals per game. With every game of the Cavaliers’ season having been decided by one goal, the Cavaliers strong defense was even more crucial in keeping Virginia in the game. If the Cavaliers hope to upset Wake Forest, the defense will need to keep Wake Forest in check to give the offense a chance to win the game.
The Demon Deacons have been prolific on offense this season, currently averaging 2.25 goals per game. Wake Forest has four players who have scored three or more goals this season, meaning the Cavaliers defense will have to fend off a balanced offensive attack. The Virginia defense and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Alex Rando will need to limit second-chance opportunities and contest every shot to keep the Wake Forest offense and leading scorer junior forward Kyle Holcomb from getting on the board.
The Cavaliers have found success this season in keeping calm and forcing other teams to make mistakes. Virginia drew three penalty kicks during the season, converting two of them, while not allowing any penalty kicks on the defensive side of the ball. The Cavaliers will need to continue to force other teams to score the hard way without giving up any free chances on goal by taking risky fouls in the box. By drawing fouls and staying disciplined, the Virginia offense will be able to attack Wake Forest on set pieces and generate some offensive momentum. The Cavaliers will need to capitalize on any Wake Forest mistakes and create scoring opportunities off of free kicks and corners. Playing a disciplined game against Wake Forest will be crucial for an upset bid by the Cavaliers.
Kickoff at Spry Stadium is set for 4 p.m. in Winston-Salem, N.C. and will be broadcast on the ACC Network. The winner will advance to the semifinals on Wednesday and will face the victor of Virginia Tech vs. Clemson in the semifinals.