The regular season is over for the Virginia Tech Men’s Soccer team, as the ACC Tournament will begin for the No. 7 seed Hokies (9-5-3, 3-4-1) on Wednesday night when No. 10 seed Syracuse (7-5-4, 1-4-3) visits Thompson Field. This will be a familiar matchup for both teams, as the Orange came to Blacksburg in late September and fell to the Hokies 1-0 in double overtime.
“It was a back and forth game, we were fortunate and unfortunate,” Head Coach Mike Brizendine said. “I think both staffs thought it was going to be a tie, but right there at the end Nico [Quashie] had a good goal. I think it will be very similar.”
The Hokies had success throughout the regular season, which puts them 9th in the RPI, while Syracuse sits at 13th. However, now they move into the conference tournament and shortly thereafter, the NCAA Tournament, where it is a whole new season.
“We finished the first chapter in our season, and we put ourselves in a very good spot,” Brizendine said. “We’re not content on just shutting it down, we want to push further, and I think this team can. When we play well, we can play with anybody.”
Although the Hokies didn’t do enough in league play to get a bye in the tournament, they were able to draw a home game to begin tournament play. This allows the team to avoid a long trip up or down the east coast early in the postseason.
“There’s no ACC team that has traveled as much as we have, and probably if you looked across the country, we would have to be in the top couple of teams in terms of travel,” Brizendine said. “So it’s nice to be at home, we needed a little bit of a break.”
The Hokies will have to travel if they are able to advance in the ACC Tournament, so a home game is crucial to open up postseason play. It also allows the team to rest and heal up before the stretch run.
“The last couple of days in training we’ve given the guys off, so they can get mentally prepared for this next segment, as well as physically getting their bodies prepared” Brizendine said. “[Brendan] Moyers will be coming back, and Cam Lennon is due to return here at some point, which will put us in a great spot.”
Syracuse enters Wednesday night with just one win in league play. However, that lone win came against #1 Wake Forest, the only time the Demon Deacons fell this season, as they sit with a 16-1 record.
“Their coach is excellent, their team is very good, and obviously they’re very motivated to get a result,” Brizendine said. “They see it the same way we do, it can only help, and I’m sure they’re very pleased with their draw, as are we. I think it’s a good matchup for both of us.”
The Orange look very similar to the Hokies statistically, as both squads have allowed 20 goals, with Virginia Tech scoring just one more goal over the course of the season. Both teams’ leading goal scorers have scored eight times as well. For the Hokies that is sophomore Kristo Strickler, and for the Orange, sophomore Tajon Buchanan.
“They have one of the best forwards in the country in Buchanan,” Brizendine said. “He’s explosive, our centerbacks, Will [Mejia] and Nikal [Clarke-Smith], are very athletic and he gave them everything that they can handle.”
The winner of this first round game will go on to face #4 North Carolina on the road this Sunday in the ACC quarterfinals. The Hokies fell to the Tar Heels 2-1 in early October. However, another chance at a top team can only help the Hokies’ seeding and placement in the NCAA Tournament.
“Whoever wins this game will have a tough test in UNC, I think they are arguably the best team I’ve seen in the country,” Brizendine said. “It’s just an awesome opportunity to go play a top five team, it’s a ‘you have nothing to lose’ type situation and I know both teams want to be in that spot.”