Ranked the No. 1 player in the Midwest and No. 30 in the U.S. by Top Drawer Soccer (Jan. 2012), freshman midfielder Drew Conner has made his presence known on the Badgers’ men’s soccer team halfway through his first season.
Making his mark was something head coach John Trask hoped Conner would do when he recruited him last fall.
“During recruitment we could tell that he could make the transition to Division 1 soccer,” Trask said. “He’s a mature player coming from a very impressive soccer background.”
That soccer background includes time playing for the Chicago Fire Youth Academy — a program designed to “maximize the frequency of training and give players access to the top soccer coaches and development facilities in the Midwest” — where coach Trask said Conner developed his “technical ability, tactical awareness and competitive edge.”
The players felt his imprint on the men’s soccer program as soon as he took the field this summer.
“Within the first few days of preseason we could tell that he was the real deal and that he was ready to contribute to this team,” junior forward Chris Prince said.
“He’s a very influential player and he’s so committed to his game,” Prince added. “He knows how to be calm on the ball and does a good job of keeping possession. He’s a very balanced player overall and I hope to learn from him by bringing that to my game as well.”
By having started all 10 games so far for the Badgers this season and being third on the team in minutes played (960 compared to 978 for both AJ Cochran and Paul Yonga), Conner has sacrificed himself for the greater good of his teammates.
“It’s nice to be able to go to someone and ask them to change positions and without hesitation to have them step up into the spot for the benefit of the team,” Trask said of Conner. “He’s a hell of a player and he’s only going to get better with experience.
“We think he’ll be in the middle eventually, but we felt that right now his attacking instincts are better suited for the outside.”
The Badgers surely have benefited from his “attacking instincts” as they are undefeated (2-0-1) in games in which Conner has recorded a shot on goal.
In the team’s 2-1 victory on Saturday night against Cleveland State, Conner gave the Badgers a goal in the 43rd minute to take a 2-0 lead heading into half. Prince advanced the ball inside the left side of the box and found junior defenseman Blake Succa, who then quickly passed the ball to Conner for a strike that found the back corner of the net.
“There’s no way that ball was not going in,” Prince said of the Saturday night strike. “When he’s determined, there’s absolutely no stopping him; he’s a special talent.”
“His greatest attribute is his ability to get forward,” Trask said. “He is deceivingly quick and can get behind defenders and help us in our attack.”
Scoring goals, however, is not the only aspect of Conner’s game that made him the 2011-12 Illinois Gatorade Boys Soccer Player of the Year and the 2012 Northwest Player of the Year.
In his senior season at Cary Grove High School in Cary, Ill., Conner scored 14 goals, but, perhaps more importantly, he also racked up 17 assists.
“For a player his age, he’s got an outstanding range of talent whether it be on offense, defense, scoring the ball or assisting other teammates,” Trask said of Conner. “In time he will have the complete balance that is rare and doesn’t come around that often.”
If the Badgers (3-4-3) are going to have a strong finish to their 2012 campaign, Conner is going to have to be at the top of his game. If he can do that, the rest of the Big Ten should be forewarned because, as coach Trask put it, “It’s scary how good he can be.”