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Tracy the difference-maker for Wake Forest

CARY, N.C. -- As was the case for his team, things weren't going Marcus Tracy's way. For 66 minutes, the star of Wake Forest's semifinal win over Virginia Tech had been rendered nearly invisible by Ohio State's stout defense as the Buckeyes held on to a 1-0 lead in the national championship game.

"I didn't really get a lot of early touches on the ball, and my first couple of touches were actually turnovers," Tracy said later. "I sort of lost confidence a little bit."

Right before the start of the second half, Demon Deacons coach Jay Vidovich pulled the striker aside for a quick pep talk.

"He told me that if I work, things should happen because I have the skill and knowledge I need to play."

Turns out Vidovich was dead right.

With less than a half-hour on the clock, Wake's Cody Arnoux stripped Buckeyes left back Jordan Lomnicki near the right touchline and raced down the flank.

Arnoux's rolling pass across the face of goal found a streaking Tracy, and the Connecticut-born forward clinically steered it past keeper Casey Latchem to level the score at 1. Suddenly, the momentum -- and the game -- had changed in the Deacs' favor.

Twelve minutes later, Tracy found himself running out of the midfield with the ball at his feet and a pair of defenders in front of him. As he neared the top of Ohio State's box, he eluded a tackle and cut inside, where he saw Zack Schilawski barreling down the middle of the field. Tracy wisely left it for his teammate to slam home with his first touch.

The go-ahead goal stood up, and the title belonged to Wake Forest.

"It's a credit to Jay Vidovich," Tracy said in a jubilant Wake locker room afterward. "All throughout the year and throughout my career, he's instilled confidence in me. He was responsible for my turnaround today."

Said Vidovich: "Marcus is a game changer. He's a special player. I brought him in to be that, and he just keeps growing into the situation. As he matures as a player and gets more experience, he's just going to get better and better."

Tracy's performance at the College Cup this weekend (he scored both Deacs goals against Tech and was named the tourney's offensive MVP after the final) means he inevitably will be mentioned as a potential pro prospect.

With several MLS coaches in attendance at SAS Stadium, the junior outshone Tech's Hermann Trophy finalist Patrick Nyarko and even upstaged his running mate, top Deacs scorer Arnoux. But surprising people is nothing new for Tracy. He's been doing it for years.

"He came out of nowhere," Vidovich said. "He wasn't an Olympic Development Player, didn't do those kinds of things. But he's big-time. He's gathering up his game now, and he's learning how to play."

Wake Forest has become something of a soccer mill in recent years, producing a dozen professionals, including reigning MLS Defender of the Year and emerging U.S. national team talent Michael Parkhurst.

"Eventually, I do want to play professional soccer, whether it's in MLS or abroad," Tracy said Sunday. "But right now, I'm a Demon Deacon, and I will be next year."

For the second time in one memorable afternoon, things went Wake Forest's way.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPNsoccernet.