NCAA Men's Final Wrap

For much of the championship game, the player I raved about from the semifinals, Wake Forest's Marcus Tracy, looked to be a one-game wonder, shackled and shut down by a physical, organized Ohio State back line. But then he did what all good strikers do and showed up--with the dagger, in the conservatory--to snatch at the chance presented to him, equalizing to cancel out Roger Mendoza's first-half opener for the Buckeyes.

That said, the replay showed (despite Wynalda's willing suspension of disbelief and evidence to the contrary) that for all of Cody Arnoux's endeavor, the ball he tracked down to set up Tracy was out of play. That's not to say that Wake would not have come back into the match eventually. They continued to grow throughout the second half, and that man again--Tracy--bulled his way through the OSU defense to set up the inspired Zack Schilawski for the match winner.

The game was an entertaining, physical affair that always seemed to be on the verge of spiraling out of control, in no small part due to the ineptitude of the referee. What is it about referee's and finals? In the US, they always seem to be afraid to make the call, though that isn't a behavior that's particularly isolated to the States. Better that, I suppose, than the type of ref (ahem . . . Markus Merk, Graham Poll) who are looking to make the call that changes the game--getting themselves in the headlines in the process.

Typical of the game was the performance of Roger Espinoza, who proved a danger to both the Wake net and Julian Valentin's face with his flying boots. I'm still not sure how he didn't walk for leaving the Wake and US U-20 center back with a slasher-film visage. You could claim he was going for the ball, but on the replay it sure looks like Espinoza spies him steaming in and sticks the studs up in his grill anyway.

Typical also, was Wynalda's response to the event. First he laughs it off as a bit of rough-and-tumble between boys. Then he gets serious and apologizes when he sees Valentin's bloody face. And to cap it all off, another OSU player delivers a boot to a Wake Forest defender's face, and he goes off on the Wake player for play-acting and making a meal of the incident, when it sure looked like the OSU player made contact, and the Wake player jumped up to confront him, instead of rolling around on the ground and squealing like a stuck pig--as I'm sure that magnificent saint of a man would have been doing himself.

In the end, a deserved victory for Wake Forest, though with a little luck, on another day, OSU might have had their paws on the trophy. Man of the match honors should probably be shared, with OSU's Brunner strong at the back and the previously mentioned Espinoza always a danger on the wing. For Wake, Cody Arnoux and match-winner Schilawski were both buzzing about in attack, but the final honor has to go to Marcus Tracy for sheer impact on the match, if not for consistent contribution. His clinical finish to knot the match at one and barnstorming charge to set up the winner both came after he cooled his heels on the bench to start the second half.

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