By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CARY, N.C. –– Across the stadium from the locker room where the University of Virignia men’s soccer team, soaked but elated, celebrated an NCAA semifinal victory, the vanquished Wake Forest Demon Deacons fielded questions, many of them about the irresistible force that is Daryl Dike.
“Honestly I thought we did a pretty good job in this game defending him,” senior defender Alistair Johnston said during Wake’s press conference late Friday night. “He had two chances, buried them both, and that’s what great strikers do.”
Dike, a 6-2, 220-pound sophomore, had an extraordinary College Cup debut, scoring twice in the first 23 minutes to put top-seeded UVA up 2-0 at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
His first goal, off a long pass from freshman center back Andreas Ueland, came on a rocket, from a difficult angle near the end line on the right side of the penalty area, to the top left corner of the net. His second came on a header off a corner kick by sophomore midfielder Daniel Steedman.
“He poses a problem every time he gets the ball, right?” Wake head coach Bobby Muuss said of Dike, a third-team All-American.
“He’s a good striker,” Johnston said. “He’s going to finish his chances, and he punished us.”
The Deacons scored on a penalty kick in the 79th minute to make it 2-1. Wake supporters made up most of the crowd of 9,862, and Bruno Lapa’s goal gave them new hope. But UVA goalkeeper Colin Shutler made sure the Deacons drew no closer.
A first-team All-American, Shutler finished with a season-high seven saves, six of which came in the second half. His diving save with 68 seconds left extinguished Wake’s final chance.
“We always say that in soccer 2-nil is the hardest lead to keep, and that proved [to be the case] in this game,” said Shutler, a junior. “They were pushing us back. We bent, but we never broke. All credit to all the guys on the field. They worked their butts off.”
Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch said: “A 2-0 lead, like Colin said, is a tricky lead, and when they get that one goal, no matter how much time is left on the clock, it always gets tricky.”
In basketball or football, a head coach might call a timeout and personally deliver instructions to his players in a situation like that. In soccer, the game resumed immediately after Lapa’s penalty kick.
“It’s hard,” Gelnovatch said, “because you’re not able to collect them and settle them down. You’ve got to rely on the guys on the field to do that.”
Such veterans as Shutler, Bell, Henry Kessler and Robin Afamefuna steadied the Wahoos in the closing minutes, extending a remarkable season for a storied program.
Now comes an opportunity for the Hoos to capture their eighth NCAA title (and third under Gelnovatch). At 6 p.m. Sunday, in a match ESPNU will televise, UVA (21-1-1) meets third-seeded Georgetown (19-1-3) in the championship game.
“The two best teams all season in the NCAA get to meet in the College Cup [final],” Muuss said, “which I think is great for college soccer.”
Georgetown advanced with a 2-0 victory over No. 7 seed Stanford in the first semifinal Friday night. That game was played in the cold, driving rain that fell all day in this part of the Tar Heel State, and conditions deteriorated as the night went on.
Between semifinals, workers used squeegees to try to remove excess water from the pitch, but the rain refused to relent. That didn’t deter the Wahoos, who en route to the ACC title last month had defeated the Demon Deacons 1-0 at Klöckner Stadium.
“We knew going into this game that the conditions were not going to be very good,” Dike said. “We knew that we were going to have to have more focus [everywhere on the field]. We weren’t going to let the conditions beat us,” Dike said.
The Deacons (16-5-2) dominated possession for the first 15 minutes, but momentum swung hard in the Hoos’ favor on Dike’s strike in the 19th minute.
“It was a bit of a half chance,” said UVA midfielder Joe Bell, “so I think that gives you insight into the quality that Daryl has. How many people in college soccer are going to score from there? He proved that he can do it in the Final Four, which is big time.”
Muuss said: “One of the best forwards in America gets that chance, and, man, he took it. He made the most of that opportunity.”
Nobody who saw the goal would disagree with Muuss’ assessment of it. “Great finish,” he said. But the start of the sequence was just as important, Dike said.
“First of all, Andreas played an incredible ball to put me through,” he said. “I picked my head up and just kind of let it go, and the next thing I knew the ball was in the back of the net. A little bit of luck, a little bit of skill. I’ll take it. A goal’s a goal.”
Bell said: “Having a player like Daryl up top that can give you that switch of momentum is huge, and hopefully that’s something we can see on Sunday as well.”
For the season, Dike has nine goals and eight assists, both team highs. Five times in this postseason run he’d been fouled in the box to earn a penalty kick for the Cavaliers, and he’d picked up two assists. Until Friday night, however, Dike hadn’t scored a goal himself since the Nov. 1 regular-season finale, a win over North Carolina.
“I know obviously a striker’s mentality is to score goals, and I may not have scored as many goals [recently], but I know I’m still a piece of the team, I know I’m still a part of the team,” Dike said. “And no matter how the goals come, whether I’m scoring them or someone else is scoring them, I’m going to do whatever’s in my power to allow the team to score.”
For the Cavaliers, this is their sixth College Cup appearance under Gelnovatch, who guided them to NCAA titles in 2009 and 2014. The Hoos secured each of those championships at WakeMed Soccer Park, which is also where they defeated Clemson for the ACC title last month.
In last year’s NCAA tournament, Virginia was ousted in the third round. Most of the key players from that team returned, however, and the emergence of such sophomores as Dike, Steedman and Bret Halsey has given the Cavaliers an enviable mix of experience and talent.
“When you have that and a little bit of luck, you end up in the final,” Bell said.