CARY, N.C. -- In the end, Wake Forest got the goals it needed to advance to Sunday's College Cup final, but it could have been very different. Thirteen minutes into the first semifinal match between Wake Forest and Virginia Tech on Friday, Hokies top scorer Patrick Nyarko found himself behind the Demon Deacons defense with the ball at his feet following a Julian Valentin miscue.
But Nyarko's brief stumble inside the 18 gave the Wake back line just enough time to recover, and that pressure forced Nyarko's running mate Robert Edmans to sky the Ghanaian's square pass over the open net from the doorstep.
"We dodged one there," Deacs keeper Brian Edwards admitted afterward.
Wake also rode its luck to score the all-important opening goal, which came off an unmarked Marcus Tracy's head, following a Sam Cronin corner kick six minutes into the second half. Tracy's second less than eight minutes from the final whistle sealed the deal.
Wake Forest enjoyed the better of possession, but it would be inaccurate to suggest that they dominated Tech. The first half was littered with chances for both teams, and the action was end-to-end for much of the night. It was a highly entertaining affair, and the side that netted first was always going to have the advantage, especially after the first half ended 0-0.
"These two teams like to attack," said Hokie coach Oliver Weiss. "Wake is an extremely talented, well-coached team. They can usually impose their game on anyone. [But] I think if we'd scored the first goal, it might have changed the way they play."
Goal-hero Tracy agreed.
"We knew something was going to happen in the second half," he said.
What Deacs coach Jay Vidovich knew was that his team also had to limit the Hokies' opportunities when they retuned to the SAS Stadium field following the break.
"In the second half we wanted to make sure we stayed tight and compact, from our front-runners to the back," Vidovich said.
"Not only did we have to play to win, we had to play not to lose. They are very dangerous because they play off of your mistakes. In the last 15 minutes of the first half they opened us up a bit."
Ohio State vs. Massachusetts
Wake Forest will meet Ohio State Sunday after the Buckeyes beat Massachusetts, 1-0, in Friday's second semifinal. The nightcap was a physical, defensive slog compared to the thrilling first game, but that certainly doesn't mean it lacked drama.
The Buckeyes and Minutemen also were scoreless at the intermission, almost entirely because of UMass goalie Zack Simmons. OSU played perhaps its best half of soccer all season in the opening 45 minutes, creating a plethora of legitimate scoring chances. But no matter what they did, they just couldn't solve the New Hampshire-born backstop.
"We were all over them," said Ohio State coach John Bluem. "We expended a tremendous amount of energy in the first half. I thought we should have been ahead by a couple goals at halftime, if it wasn't for their goalkeeper."
Despite Simmons' heroics, UMass was badly losing the possession battle and it seemed only a matter of time until the Buckeyes broke through. The decider finally came off the foot of senior forward Eric Edwards in the 53rd minute, but not before Simmons made three spectacular point-blank stops following a sloppy turnover at the top of his area.
"Basically, the only way we could get it past him was have him make a good save and while he's on the ground, put it away," said Ohio State striker Xavier Balc.
OSU keeper Casey Latchem was equally awed by Simmons' out-of-this-world performance. Said Latchem: "He really kept his team in it. He was the heart and soul of that team. It was amazing. He made some incredible saves."
After falling behind, the Minutemen wilted a bit, but quickly found their legs again as they pressed on for the equalizer.
"We were fairly confident that we could shut them down after [the goal], said Bluem. "To their credit, they never quit, kept coming at us, and made life very difficult for us until the very end."
Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.