After guiding their teams to the NCAA Men's College Cup in December, Wake Forest men's soccer coach Jay Vidovich and his counterpart at North Carolina, Tar Heels coach Elmar Bolowich, wanted to spend the winter elevating their teams' play for next season.
So they found competitors who already had made it to the next level.
In recent weeks, Wake and UNC played preseason exhibition games against the Philadelphia Union, a Major League Soccer expansion club.
North Carolina was shut out, 5-0, by the Union in a Feb. 13 exhibition in Greensboro. The Demon Deacons didn't fare much better against the Union's professional players, losing 5-1 in Winston-Salem three days later.
"It was an opportunity to see how our team stacked up against other players," Vidovich said. "An opportunity to go against a professional franchise, and some very good professionals."
The Demon Deacons and Tar Heels are not the only ACC teams to take on MLS competition this spring. Duke is scheduled to play the New England Revolution at Cary's WakeMed Soccer Park on March 17.
Bolowich said that the loss has given the coaching staff and players a better indication of where they would like to be when the regular season arrives.
Even as the team was riding back from the game, he told his players how much they could benefit from having such high-caliber opponents on a weekly basis.
"We were shown the differences in the pro game versus the college game," he said. "Now we can work on this."
UNC sophomore midfielder Kirk Urso said the competition also gave a glimpse of what many soccer players dream of - a potential pro career.
"We all want to play at that next level," he said. "When you have an opportunity to play directly against an MLS team, your opportunities and chances to be seen are higher."
Wake Forest will play against three more professional teams: Saturday against the Carolina RailHawks, March 29 against the Montreal Impact of the USSF Pro League and April 9 against the Charlotte Eagles of the U.S. Soccer Federation's Second Division League. UNC will face the RailHawks on March 26.
"Our players understand they have a lot of work left to do," Bolowich said. "But they can see that the pro level is still a possibility. That they have a shot at it."