*The Hoosier Network will give analysis of every IU men’s soccer opponent this season in the days leading up to each matchup. This week, the Hoosiers will travel to North Carolina to face No. 5 Wake Forest and No. 3 North Carolina*
Indiana men’s soccer will open its season this weekend with No. 5 Wake Forest as the first team on the Hoosiers’ tab. IU will travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the first of two games to start 2018, and both will be against teams who made the Elite Eight in last season’s NCAA Tournament.
The last time the Demon Deacons took the pitch was in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament where they fell 2-0 to eventual national champions, Stanford. This season, the Demon Deacons return without several key figures from last season’s squad, including 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy Winner, Jon Bakero.
Josh Eastern: When you look at what Wake Forest has coming back this season, my eyes drift to the midfield. Brad Dunwell, a defensive midfielder, and Bruno Lapa, an attacking midfielder, give the center part of the pitch balance for the Demon Deacons. Dunwell contributed with four assists last season and does a good job distributing from his defending midfield position. Lapa had two goals and two assists a season ago, but could be a player who takes the next step up with the departure of MAC Hermann Award winner, Jon Bakero.
Michael Ramirez: Todd Yeagley seemed a little concerned about Wake Forest’s attack at training on Wednesday, so I’m looking at the top of the formation to make an impact for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest took a significant hit in the goal scoring department due to the departure of some players in the offseason, but there are young strikers looking to step in. Head coach Bobby Muuss has a strong reputation for getting the best out of his players as one of the top coaches in college soccer.
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Josh Eastern: With five of top six goal scorers not on the team anymore, it will be interesting to see who can step up and replace those goals. It is a young group up front that could be led by sophomore Justin McMaster. Especially in the first match of the season against one of the stoutest backlines in the country, you wonder if it will be difficult for Wake Forest to find enough quality chances.
Michael Ramirez: Wake Forest has just two players who are taller an six feet on the back line, and it could become a problem for them when defending set pieces. Senior center back Timmy Mehl was dangerous in the air on goal-scoring opportunities last season, and he could take advantage of a height mismatch in the box, especially if the ball is bouncing around inside the 16.
Josh Eastern: Battle of the Midfields - Both sides in this match enter the season in similar places. Both sides lost key goalscorers, but return stout backlines. Because of that combination, the midfield becomes that much more important. Whoever is able to gain control, win a few more 50-50 balls and play how they want to play will have the most success come Friday night. Being that it is at home for the Demon Deacons, there could be a bit more pressure on them to do so.
Michael Ramirez: Justin Rennicks vs. Sam Raben - I’m assuming Rennicks will start up top for the Hoosiers in their season-opener. Raben is the reliable one at the back fro the Demon Deacons, and he will be keeping a close eye on the sophomore striker. We saw flashes of what Rennicks’ potential is, and a game against one of the best teams in the country can get the best out of a player who is looking to make an impact.
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One to Watch
Josh Eastern: I'm keeping my eye on sophomore midfielder Omir Fernandez. In his freshman season, Fernandez found the back of the net six times to go along with five assists. It just so happens he is Wake's leading returning goal scorer too. If the Demon Deacons are able to control the midfield and let Brad Dunwell distribute like he does, Fernandez could reap the benefits and make life difficult for the Hoosiers.
Michael Ramirez: It’s hard to watch for someone else other than the No. 3 player in the country, senior midfielder Brad Dunwell, according to Top Drawer Soccer’s preseason rankings. Dunwell has started every game for Wake Forest in his three seasons and will be the one who makes his team tick in 2018. There isn’t much of a harder task to start the season than to slow down Dunwell, but if the Hoosiers are going to win Friday night, the recipe for success starts with shutting him down.
Josh Eastern: You almost couldn't script a more difficult first weekend for Todd Yeagley's side. But Indiana always embraces the challenge. Expect to see a lot more lineup rotation than normal because of the two grueling matches and just one rest day in between. Wake Forest probably has a few more holes to fill than IU, but that doesn't mean those holes won't be filled with little or no quality lost. This should be a fascinating match in many different ways.
Michael Ramirez: IU’s margin for error is almost none during the first weekend of the season, but with nine of 11 starters returning from 2017, the transition should go a little smoother than usual. Wake Forest’s lack of size on its back line could prove costly on corners and set pieces, and I expect IU to take advantage of those chances. Wake Forest has some holes to fill in it starting lineup, too. Playing on the road against a prestigious program is always tough, but the Hoosiers have experience and talented youth, which goes a long way in college soccer.