Men's Soccer

Orange faces No. 13 Wake Forest in need of victory, help from Duke to make 1st ACC tournament

Syracuse’s chances of reaching the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament were slim, so Ian McIntyre addressed his young team.

“Whatever happens,” the head coach said to his players last week, “we’ve had a good season.”

His players took offense to the message.

“We set goals as a team,” goalkeeper Alex Bono said. “None of those goals included having 10 wins and not making the ACC tournament, or having a decent RPI and not making the ACC tournament or the NCAA tournament.

“We know what we need to accomplish to have a good season and we haven’t achieved those goals yet, so until we do achieve those goals we won’t believe that we’ve had a truly good season.”

Syracuse (10-6-1, 3-6-1 ACC) holds sole possession of ninth place in the ACC, but only the top eight advance to the conference tournament. Now that SU’s postseason hopes have been reinvigorated after its victory over Clemson on Friday, the Orange needs to pull off one more upset to extend its season.

SU heads south to square off with No. 13 Wake Forest (8-4-5, 5-1-4) on Friday at 7 p.m. with its season on the line. If Duke, now the eighth seed in the ACC, ties or loses to Clemson on Friday, a Syracuse win over the Demon Deacons would catapult the Orange into the playoff picture.

A win might be enough to prolong the Orange’s season, but a loss would certainly end it.

“It’s certainly a challenge, but an exciting one,” McIntyre said. “For us to be in the hunt going into the last game of the season, everything’s still to play for. Now we go down to Wake Forest with confidence and we’re looking forward to getting after it.”

A week ago, SU’s odds were bleak.

The Orange was in 11th place in the conference going into its home matchup with the then-No. 19 Tigers, and an offensive slump — which SU still hasn’t truly snapped out of — made a playoff appearance seem even more improbable.

But thanks to a strong defensive stand, Syracuse came away with a gritty 1-0 win and injected life into its postseason aspirations.

The one goal generated by the SU attack was all it needed, but a lone score against the ACC’s No. 3 offense in Wake Forest may not be enough. Prior to Alex Halis’ goal against the Tigers, the Orange had been shut out in three consecutive conference games.

Each week, SU’s players say they need to take more shots on goal, keep putting pressure on opposing defenses and capitalize on their opportunities, but the end result hasn’t changed.

“There’s no formula for it, I guess,” midfielder Nick Perea said. “But it doesn’t have to be three, four goals to win a game. You put one away, and then the defense does the rest.”

Friday night’s showdown won’t be a high-scoring game, McIntyre said. It’ll be tight. It’ll be edgy. And if the Syracuse offense still can’t break out of its recent struggle, it’ll be up to the competitive Orange defense — which ranks third in the ACC in goals allowed — to keep SU in the game.

Syracuse’s preparation is no different this week. Even with the postseason implications, the fact that SU’s attack has stalled and even though Wake Forest’s unit poses a great challenge, Bono said the team is treating it like any other game.

And it won’t be until after the final whistle that the Orange checks in on the progress of the Duke-Clemson matchup, Perea said. SU can’t concern itself with that game, he said, and it needs to maintain its focus on the Demon Deacons.

Syracuse’s season hangs in the balance. If its players respond with the same bite they did to McIntyre’s address, the Orange might squeeze into the ACC tournament in its inaugural season in the league.

“I think that big players step up in big-time games and that’s what we’re going to need from our entire team on Friday,” Bono said. “Wake Forest should be ready for a good game.”

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