NC State men’s soccer is preparing to get its spring season started with a pair of games over the next week. The Pack will be hoping to change the narrative around its play that was cemented after a winless fall. The best chance to do so, and to reignite a flame for this program, would be to take wins against the two nonconference opponents coming up.
Feb. 20 vs. UAB
The Pack’s first opportunity to do so comes against the Alabama at Birmingham Blazers. This home matchup for the Wolfpack is a fantastic opportunity for the squad to start fresh, putting the troubles of fall 2020 behind it. UAB will be looking to do the same, however, as its 2020 was no easier.
From a Wolfpack perspective, a matchup against an out-of-conference opponent deserves a sigh of relief. The fall 2020 schedule was a strenuous one for the Pack players, facing off against four top-five teams. In fact, the Pack only played in one out-of-conference game in the fall. While that matchup resulted in a loss to Navy, which only played one non-exhibition game in the fall, more matchups against non-ACC opponents will only benefit the Pack’s record.
UAB faced similar adversity in the fall of 2020, posting a final record of 1-6, losing six straight after winning its season-opener against Central Arkansas. The Blazers schedule was not an easy one either, facing off against the likes of No. 3 Clemson, No. 1 Wake Forest and No. 4 Kentucky. UAB struggled greatly against these opponents, posting zero goals in any of its ranked matchups.
Despite such poor performances scoring against ranked teams, the Blazers are not alone when it comes to inefficiency in the offensive half. In the fall, the Pack scored a total of three goals across its seven games compared to UAB’s six goals in seven games. Scoring woes haunted the Wolfpack in the latter half of 2020, characterized by an inability to maintain possession in the opponent’s third and a struggle to get shots on target.
Notable players on the Blazers squad include senior midfielder Joseph Buete and freshman goalkeeper Caelan Whitehead. Buete was the leading scorer of this Blazer offensive attack in the fall, netting two goals in seven games played. He also led the team in shots with seven and shooting percentage with .286 of his shots finding the back of the net.
Whitehead was thrown directly into the fire in his freshman season, being tested time and time again. Despite allowing 18 goals in on the year with an average of 2.80 per game, Whitehead managed to post a save percentage of .617. This number indicates he saved over half of the shots put on target. It is not a fantastic number, but it provides a great base for him to improve upon given he’s a freshman who will likely only improve.
It is yet to be seen how both NC State and UAB have attempted to remedy their respective scoring deficiencies in the offseason. The first all-time matchup between these programs is an important one, with both teams in desperate need of a win to prove what they are capable of. This match is set for Saturday, Feb. 20 in Raleigh at 7 p.m.
Feb. 24 at VCU
Following the Feb. 20 matchup against UAB, the Pack is slated to face off against VCU in Richmond, Virginia. The first game against UAB will be a telling of what is to come for the remainder of the spring season for the Pack. If they begin on a high level of play and can manage to continue that through this matchup, it could be a good spring for this NC State program.
This VCU team is a massive question mark coming into this matchup having played only one exhibition game in the entirety of the 2020-21 season. That game came Wednesday, Feb. 10 against Georgetown University, where the Rams held the Hoyas to a 1-1 draw.
Looking back to a season ago, the Rams finished 7-8-3 in 2019 across all competitive matches. How largely this will speak to what kind of team they will be this year is a different story; however, a record from a season ago doesn’t tell the story of the team today. NC State is the perfect example of that.
VCU is returning some key players from their 2019 roster, however, with the likes of redshirt senior forward Biska Biyombo, redshirt junior midfielder Fiorre Mane and senior goalkeeper Mario Sequeira.
Biyombo led the Rams in scoring in 2019, netting himself five goals in 16 games played. He was also tied for most assists on the team with four and led the team in tidal points with 14. Such stats granted him a second-team all-conference bid.
Mane managed to place third amongst the team in goals scored and points with three and seven, respectively, on the season in 18 games played. He provides an attacking threat from the midfield, an extremely valuable asset to any successful soccer program.
Sequeira comes into his senior season as the trusted wall between the posts for this VCU team. In 2019, he allowed 23 goals through 18 games for an average of 1.21 goals allowed per game. Sequeira made 66 saves during the 2019 campaign and posted a save percentage of .742, a respectable number for a college goalkeeper.
This matchup is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. in Richmond, Virginia. Both games will not be televised on ESPN or any regional sports networks. Follow @TechSports on Twitter for live updates of the UAB game from Dail Soccer Field, as well as postgame updates regarding the matchup against VCU.