The team celebrates after the first goal by freshman midfielder Luke Hille in the 4-0 win over UNC Asheville on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

NC State men’s soccer’s most recent outing resulted in a 1-1 draw for the Pack, bringing the team to 4-3-1 (0-2-1 ACC) on the season. A draw against an opponent as formidable as Wake Forest leaves plenty to be hopeful for with NC State approaching a crucial portion of its schedule. 

Statistically, this team is much improved from what it showed us a year ago, in a season where the Pack would finish at 3-8-4 (1-7-4 ACC). A combination of new and familiar faces have been producing on a nightly basis for the Pack, and if it continues, the wins are sure to follow. 

Stats outlook

Offensively, this team has been dominating its opponents on paper. Eight games into its season, the Pack has outshot, outscored and performed with more efficiency thus far. NC State’s 12 goals on 105 shots are clear of its opponents’ combined nine goals on 84 shots this season. The Pack is averaging a healthy 1.5 goals per game to its opponents’ 1.13 as well. 

A far more possessive style of play has defined the Wolfpack offense so far this season, with head coach George Kiefer wanting to maintain control of every game’s tempo by slowing the ball down. In doing so, this squad has performed above expectations on the attacking side of the ball up to this point, but there is clear room for improvement indicated by the team’s barely positive record.

Volume goes a long way in soccer; whichever team is winning the shots-on-target war will be better suited to score more goals, obviously. Despite leading in the goals-to-shots ratio by a solid margin, the Pack holds a slimmer advantage in shots on target with 36 to its opponents’ 34. The Pack’s .343 SOG percentage will need to improve to turn the immense offensive pressure it creates into game-winning goals.

In terms of game flow, NC State men’s soccer has had the tendency to cool off after the first half this year. The Pack has managed to outscore its opponents 8-2 in the first half of games this season but is quickly overpowered in the second half by a 7-4 scoreline. With a possession-focused style of play comes the necessity to maintain control of the game script, even after the half. This team cannot get comfortable with leads going into the second period and will need to address this issue to sustain its style of play moving forward.

Team leaders

A healthy mix of new and familiar faces has contributed to this team’s offensive success in the small sample size this season has to offer to this point. Freshman midfielder Luke Hille is the current team leader in goals with three on the year. Hille got off to a phenomenal start with the red and white, scoring three goals in his first two appearances. The freshman standout was primed for a massive breakout campaign, but unfortunately, an injury has kept him on the sideline since late August.

Despite the timeline for his return being uncertain for the team, plenty of players have stepped up to maintain the Pack’s offensive play in his absence. Freshman forward Henrique Santos is another new face for the Pack who has been producing on a nightly basis. His two assists on the year tie him for the team’s best with senior midfielder Alex Hernandez, with both players playing an integral part in Kiefer’s offensive scheme. The two team leaders for assists also boast a goal apiece, with Santos being the team leader in shots attempted with 21.

It has been all offense so far for NC State this year, but redshirt senior Leon Krapf continues to be a rock at the back for the Pack. Krapf’s 25 saves up to this point are enough to place him at fifth-best in the ACC. It’s no question that the redshirt senior has solidified himself as a legend for this men’s soccer program, but he and his defense have a lot of work to do moving forward to help earn this team some more wins. 

What’s next

NC State currently sits at joint-last in the Atlantic division of the ACC, with one point to its name in conference play so far this year. It is a long and difficult road to the top of the ACC in nearly any sport for the Pack, but men’s soccer always faces one of the most challenging. Storied men’s soccer programs such as Wake Forest, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke always give the Pack a run for its money in terms of finding success within the conference. 

Being able to capitalize on the high volume of offensive pressure it creates will be the key to success for the Pack moving forward. That seems like an obvious statement, but it’s the undeniable truth. Kiefer’s squad has been able to possess the ball in an abundance, even against high-quality opponents such as Wake Forest, but its lack of efficiency in finding the back of the net from the chances it creates is holding the team back from finding the wins it so desperately needs. 

As previously mentioned, drawing Wake Forest was a fantastic point earned for the Pack, and it has the ability to build off of that performance in a big way. NC State will see a small break from ACC play with a road matchup against Longwood on Tuesday, Sept. 28 before starting a two-game conference stint against UNC and Syracuse on the road. 

The final results of these two conference matches will have huge implications for the Pack’s standings at the end of the year, and they truly can be considered must-wins for NC State if it has any hope of reaching the top of the ACC this year.

Assistant Sports Editor