Houston – Collapsing immediately in devastation as the ball hit the back of the net, the University of Denver Pioneers (20-1-3, 5-0-1 Summit) lost 2-1 in after battling the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (18-2-3, 5-1-2 ACC) on Friday, Dec. 9 in the semifinal of the College Cup.
The teams held a storied past as current DU head coach Jamie Franks played for Wake Forest from 2005-08 before becoming an assistant coach at Denver in 2011 and taking the helm last year. Current Wake Forest head coach Bobby Muuss was a mentor to Franks when he was the head coach of the Pioneers from 2007-14.
A tenacious game, requiring overtime was determined on a counter-attack during the final two minutes of the second period of extra-time. Wake Forest forward Jon Bakero collected a clear Denver’s corner kick and took advantage of mispositioning on DU’s backline. He angled his touch inward towards drawing DU’s last defender before sending the ball to the wide run of captain Ian Harkes. Harkes drew Denver’s goal Nick Gardner out of net before sealing the fate for the Deacons.
Evenly-matched, Denver and Wake Forest exchanged goals in the first-half. 6:20 into the game, Bakero intercepted a pass in the attacking third and launched his shot over Gardner to put the Deacons on the board first. 10 minutes later, junior midfielder Graham Smith lofted a pass to the diagonal run of sophomore forward Andre Shinyashiki. Shinyashiki’s initial shot was deflected by Wake Forest goalie Alec Ferrell and rebounded back to Shinyashiki’s boot, equalizing the score one apiece.
Denver was outplayed in the second-half as Wake Forest held a 10-2 shots on goal advantage. The match was truly a clash between two of the best defenses in the nation, 13 of Denver’s last 19 games have been cleansheets.
Denver made program history advancing to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. Furthermore, the Pioneers were the first program since Clemson in 1977-78, to go unbeaten in two regular seasons. This loss, while anguishing, was a defining moment for Denver soccer.
“I told them there is nothing to hang your head on,” Coach Franks said. “Back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons, made it to their first college cup. Our tagline of our program is that, ‘Your actions must meet your ambition.’ They said they wanted to get to a Final Four. The reason why it hurts so bad is because it was honest. It was genuine. I told them that there is absolutely nothing to hang your head on. I love those guys.”
The Pioneers created a name for the program on the national level and intend on building off their tremendous successes just within the past two seasons.
“We took the program to a place it’s never been,” Senior captain Sam Hamilton said.” We built a belief for the program to feed off of for the next couple years. We laid a roadmap for what it looks like to get here. I’m really appreciative for my experience and just to be able to walk away making history like that at such an awesome university.”
Tough loss no doubt, but a successful, promising future has just begun for the Denver men’s soccer program.