Offensively, Wisconsin’s men’s soccer team has rarely suffered from a lack of talent.
Instead, a lack of offensive connections has been an occasional issue, and the Badgers’ dynamic group of forwards and midfielders proved that those connections have matured in a 2-1 win over Loyola Marymount Sunday.
With an attack powered by weapons including Chris Prince, Josh Thiermann, Joey Tennyson and Tomislav Zadro, among others, the Badgers’ offense looked more dangerous than it has all season in just Wisconsin’s second home win of the year. As a group of midfielders and forwards that individually have different levels of experience with the program, it seems that these players are now starting to truly understand each other’s games.
The dangerous connections began when Prince, a sophomore, sent a short, skillful pass to the junior Zadro to knock in the ball and put the Badgers up 1-0. While UW recognizes that its ability to work together was not at its prime at the start of the year, the Badgers feel that they are building critical connections with each game.
“Beginning of the season [the connection] was pretty shaky, but now I think it’s really starting to gel together,” Prince said. “We know all each other’s movements, we know where we want to go with the ball, we know each other’s strengths now, so I think it’s really starting to show.”
While Wisconsin only put up two goals in the contest, those numbers fail to show the Badgers’ increased number of close scoring opportunities throughout the game. Attacking the LMU goal from the start, UW had a goal by Nick Janus called back by an offsides penalty and had several other shots in the first half narrowly miss the back of the net.
Displaying a renewed energy and aggressiveness, UW fired off an impressive 18 shots throughout the game, including seven shots on goal.
Averaging 11 shots per game coming into the matchup with the Lions, Wisconsin showed that it can pose an explosive offensive attack if the different pieces can come together as effectively as they did at the McClimon Complex Sunday.
Often struggling to put up more than one score per game this year, the Badgers were able to put away a game-winning second goal in the 86th minute, showing how vital the relationship among the top offensive players is to the team’s overall success.
“I thought we were dangerous – it seemed liked every time we went down the field you felt like, ‘Wow, something’s happening here,’” head coach John Trask said. “We are definitely improving that attack. … I just felt like we’re going to score goals again, which is something we really struggled with last year.”
The increased offensive productivity may be a result of the midfielders and forwards becoming more familiar with one another, but Trask has also added a new level of competitiveness that encouraged the offense to step up their game.
“There were five guys in the starting lineup that had not scored a goal yet, and I challenged them, ‘Who’s going to be the one today, out of you guys that haven’t scored a goal, that’s going to find a way?’” Trask said. “David [Caban] almost had a couple in the first half, and then he finally gets rewarded. Now these other four guys are chasing David to get that next goal.”
UW defense keeps Lions at bay in closing minutes
In addition to the sparkling offensive play against the Tigers, the Badgers’ defense proved that it can allow their team to keep a lead by shutting down LMU late in the game.
Surrendering late goals that led to losses or ties in three recent games against California-Irvine, Memphis and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Sunday’s game provided a major confidence boost for the Wisconsin defense.
“We gave up one goal, we wanted the shutout today, but I mean, to not give up two at the end there was a really good thing,” junior defenseman Kyle McCrudden said. “At the end there with that long throw it was a little scary, but we held strong and that’s all that matters.”
Despite a couple lapses, the UW defense looked tough for most of the game, giving up just one goal to senior forward/midfielder Artur Jozkowicz. However, the fact that it was able to close out the final minutes after Wisconsin took the lead may have been the greatest takeaway from the LMU game.
The Lions’ aggressive attack, which has produced more shots and shots on goal this year than the Badgers’, was certainly no cupcake, a further credit for the defense’s ability to hold on. After losing several games by late goals, Wisconsin was finally on the other side of the equation, taking down LMU in the final minutes and ultimately relying on the defense for the home victory.
“Any California team we play is going to challenge us with our individual [defensive] principles, and I thought we did pretty well,” Trask said. “There were a couple scary points there, but I would say a 2-1 result was probably a fair result.”