The Wisconsin women’s soccer team came off the field disappointed after its fourth Big Ten loss Friday night at the McClimon Soccer Complex, falling to Nebraska 3-2 in its fourth overtime game of the season.
In a game that will be criticized for its defensive mishaps, the Wisconsin (7-5-1, 1-4-1 Big Ten) offense has showed strong signs of improvement over the last few games. It’s an encouraging sign for a team attempting to regain its early season form, which saw the Badgers win six of their first eight games.
Wisconsin controlled the game in terms of possession and had more chances, beating the Huskers (6-7-1, 3-3-0) in total shots 13-11. The chances, however, weren’t taken well. Only five of the 13 shots by the Badgers were on goal.
“I thought we created some opportunities [that] we could’ve gotten a goal,” head coach Paula Wilkins said after the game. “We just don’t get enough on frame.”
Not finishing has been the bane of the Wisconsin offense as of late. Of the five games prior to Friday’s loss, the Badgers only scored two goals once — in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota Sept. 27. The skills required to succeed appear to be there, but a finishing touch and an unstoppable drive in the final third are missing.
“We are creating these opportunities, but I think the one difference between us and Nebraska today was Nebraska was a little bit hungrier for stuff,” Wilkins said. “I told the players that winning is hard, and we have to be a little harder.”
The first half in particular was rife with missed opportunities. The Badgers worked together well to get the ball down the sideline only to have the offense sputter when it mattered most.
In the 11th minute, midfielder/forward Kodee Williams sent a cross in toward forward Cara Walls but couldn’t connect. Midfielder McKenna Meuer also created chances, but had both a shot and a cross handled by Huskers goalkeeper Emma Stevens.
“I thought it was good we were creating some chances,” Williams said. “But once again what comes back to bite us is our inability to finish and be desperate, and we just have to take our chances and really start fighting out there.”
Two goals are better than none, however, and some positives can be taken from the loss. After falling down 2-0 to the Huskers by the 25th minute, UW showed resilience and determination, scoring 33 seconds later on a Walls goal.
The Badgers showed attacking intelligence and preparation in their next goal. Forward Paige Adams fed the ball through to freshman Lindsey Holmes, who chipped the ball over Stevens and in. The Nebraska goalkeeper had been playing far off her line all night.
Coaches noticed this in film during the week and exploited on the field.
“We watched some film and we noticed she kind of came up as a sweeper,” midfielder Monica Lam-Feist said. “We saw that maybe sometimes we could beat her because she’s out.”
Shortly after Holmes’ goal, the Badgers got a free kick. The ball was sent into the box, but, like many other opportunities in the first half, the ball did not end up in the Nebraska goal, and Wisconsin was unable to capitalize on the momentum from the equalizing goal.
The first half showed encouraging progress for the Badgers, and there was hope the run of play at the end of the first half would continue well into the second. That was not the case, however, as Wisconsin only forced Stevens into one save the entire second half.
The quality opportunities of the first half had disappeared, and of the six shots by the Badgers in the second half, most were either speculative shots from distance or closer shots that went wide or high.
Wisconsin has proved this season it can be dangerous going forward. The Badgers have also shown, however, they can struggle to finish the chances they create.
If UW can repeat the offensive output of the first half consistently going forward, it has a strong chance of making an impact in the five remaining Big Ten games. If not, it may fade into obscurity in the Big Ten conference.
Wisconsin’s next game against UW-Green Bay may perhaps foreshadow what Badger fans can expect from the offense the rest of the season.