After an up-and-down non-conference season, the Badgers need to be at the top of their game in their conference opener versus No. 6 Indiana Sunday at the McClimon Complex.
A perennial Big Ten power in men’s soccer, the Hoosiers are undefeated through their first eight games of the season, and the Badgers (4-3-2) will need to improve on Wednesday’s performance against Marquette to hang with the Hoosiers. Arguably the best team Wisconsin has played this year, Indiana features a dangerous offense that scores an average of more than two goals per game.
Though this will be the opening Big Ten game for Wisconsin, Indiana took down its first conference win with a 1-0 victory over No. 19 Penn State.
“[Indiana is] going to be very difficult; they know it’s Big Ten season. I’m sure their No. 1 goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and then move on from there,” head coach John Trask said. “We’re going to have to be sharp — we’re going to have to be sharp in every area of the field.”
The matchup with the Hoosiers could prove to be the toughest test so far for the Wisconsin defense, as Indiana has put up as many as six goals in a single game this year. Looking vulnerable at times in a 1-1 tie with Marquette, UW’s defense will have to use the energy of what should be a great crowd to stop one of the most talented front lines the team has played all year.
Powered by fifth-year senior Alec Purdie, who leads the team with five goals and 12 points, disrupting the Indiana offense starts by slowing down the standout midfielder. The veteran Purdie is aided by a pair of forwards in Eriq Zavaleta and Blake Wise who together produce a relentless offensive attack that has kept Indiana without a loss so far.
Though the Badgers are undefeated through their last four games and looked impressive in games against Drake and Loyola Marymount, UW will need to convert their scoring opportunities to pick up a win over one of the best squads in the Big Ten.
Missed opportunities were the story of game against the Golden Eagles, and UW’s dynamic offense — led by players such as Tomislav Zadro, Chris Prince and Joey Tennyson — will have to be in sync to take down the defending conference champions. While Trask noted that the team’s technical skills sometimes slip at this part of the season, he’s expecting his team to put in a signature performance against the Hoosiers.
“I’m hoping with the start of the Big Ten season we’re going to be on knife’s edge, because we’re going to need to be,” Trask said. “They’re potent, they don’t give up a lot of good opportunities … but it’s going to be a very, very difficult game, and a great game for the fans.”
Trask is very familiar with the Indiana program, as he played for the Hoosiers in the ‘80s and served as an assistant coach to the team from 1993-1999.
Despite their stellar record, Indiana is 1-0-2 on the road this year, a sign that the Badgers should have a major advantage by suiting up in the friendly confines of the McClimon Complex. In addition, UW managed to tie a talented Indiana squad in 2010, an experience that should provide confidence for Sunday’s game.
While the coaching staff plays a critical role in preparing the Badgers for a game that could set the tone for the rest of the Big Ten season, the players know that the responsibility to put together a complete game ultimately falls on their shoulders.
“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing in practice; our coaches are going to get us prepared,” freshman defender AJ Cochran said. “It’s going to be up to us to go out there and play hard and play together as a team and hopefully go out there and get a good result.”