In a season marked by disappointment for the coaches and players, the mantra surrounding the Wisconsin men’s soccer team is one of continuous improvement.
Everyone involved in the program expected the Badgers (5-7-3, 1-3-0 Big Ten) to build off their 10-win season from a year ago and have even greater success this season, but with three games left on its regular season schedule, Wisconsin has hardly lived up to expectations.
There is still time remaining for the Badgers to redeem themselves, however, but forward Jerry Maddi said he recognizes he and the rest of the team must do so soon, starting with their game Wednesday against Missouri-Kansas City.
“[Wednesday's game is] really important not only because it’s another game toward being .500, because you always want to be above .500 at the end of the season, but it’s just another step of improving and getting another chance to get another win streak going before we play Northwestern and Ohio State before the Big Ten Tournament,” Maddi said. “This is the time to get hot. If we can get another win streak going before the Big Ten Tournament, that’s what’s most important.”
Although UMKC’s nickname or record may not strike fear into the hearts of its opponents, Wisconsin cannot take Wednesday’s game against the Kangaroos lightly. UMKC (6-7-2, 4-1-0 Summit League) currently leads the Summit League and is well balanced on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
And as Wisconsin squares off Sunday against Big Ten leader Northwestern, there is always the chance the Badgers could look past their matchup with UMKC to a critical conference game, but head coach John Trask is adamant that will not be the case.
“We don’t have the ability to look past anyone,” Trask said. “UMKC is number one in their conference right now. I’ve known their coaching staff a long time. They’ll be prepared and they’ll be coming here to win a soccer game. They’re not going to take it half-hearted and we can’t either.”
For Wisconsin to come out of the McClimon Soccer Complex with a win, its defense will have to play a large role, just as it has all season. The defense-first mentality has been the main focus of the Badgers since they shifted back to a four-defender back line early in the season, and the line’s solid defense and ball control have been integral to the offensive success as well.
However, defender Paul Yonga acknowledged there are still some aspects of play in which the defense can improve.
“We need to do a better job of our [one-on-one] defending and our defensive third,” Yonga said. “We just have to continue to win tackles in the midfield, and hopefully if we stay collectively together we should do a good job.”
UMKC’s offense does not light up scoreboards, but it has two capable scorers in Jordan Rideout and David Sarabia, with nine goals and three assists between the two. If Wisconsin’s defense can shut down Rideout and Sarabia and limit their opportunities, the Badgers should provide themselves the opportunity to win the game.
As for Wisconsin’s offense, its main emphasis for the game is to be more composed in the offensive third of the field with the final pass and touch before shots. Considering the Badgers’ forwards have been limited in scoring opportunities, wasting high-quality chances is definitely not something Wisconsin can afford. Given a greater attention to detail and using the scoring chances it is provided, the offense could prove more effective for the rest of the season and in the game against UMKC.
Despite the fact the game is very important for the Badgers, it does not have implications on the Badgers’ seed in the Big Ten Tournament, so Trask will be able to experiment with his lineup.
“We’ll probably give some different guys some looks tomorrow,” Trask said. “Some guys have been playing well in training, and we’ve not gotten them a lot of minutes, and it might be a good game for us to give someone who doesn’t normally play a lot an opportunity and see if they can help us out in the stretch run.”
Wisconsin is in great need of finding the players that can help it make that stretch run because it essentially has to win the rest of its games in the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.
And Wednesday’s game offers Wisconsin the opportunity to not only find those players, but also the chance to get back on the winning track and perhaps start the stretch run early.
“It’s a chance to win a soccer game, and we don’t win enough around here, so we need to win,” Trask said. “Psychologically, it always helps to come off a win and to go back into a Big Ten game.”