For the second time this season, a ranked opponent traveled to the McClimon Soccer Complex, and for the second time this season, the Badgers didn’t lose. But they didn’t win either.
Wisconsin (6-7-4, 1-3-1 Big Ten) and No. 24 Northwestern (10-4-3, 3-1-1) battled to a 0-0 double overtime tie Sunday afternoon in a game defined by Big Ten soccer stereotypes. A very mechanical and, at times, monotonous match ensued, and what it lacked in sensational scoring it made up for in extremely physical play.
“That’s Big Ten soccer,” head coach John Trask said in describing the hard-fought game. “Not a lot of chances, tough physical play, that’s what it’s all about.”
And that’s what this game was all about. Each team carved the most out of each possession with little success, as the final score would indicate. The teams shared possession through most of the game, with Wisconsin controlling the first overtime period and Northwestern controlling the second.
But the final horn sounded and Wisconsin was left without a goal. A look at the final stats would reveal what appears to be a one-sided game in favor of Northwestern as the Wildcats (10) trumped the Badgers (4) in shots attempted, and Wisconsin was only able to garner a single shot on goal.
However, the Wisconsin defense halted Northwestern’s shot advantage, and the Wildcats were held scoreless for the third consecutive game.
The Badgers entered the match in the midst of a three-week goalie rotation in which Trask has swapped goalkeepers enough that neither freshman Chase Rau nor junior Max Jentsch has started consecutive games in net. Trask chose Rau to start the game, as he had for every Big Ten game thus far.
“In terms of total performance, we just feel a little bit more comfortable [with Rau in goal],” Trask said. “If he had struggled, I would not have hesitated to make a change at halftime … but it’s good. There is a healthy competition in goal.”
Rau didn’t struggle, and proved Trask a wise man, though he was tested early and often.
Northwestern had its first shot on goal in the sixth minute, but Rau’s diving save foretold the remaining 104 minutes of the game. While the Badgers’ offense did not help his cause, Rau kept the Wildcats scoreless with a pair of saves in the second period and one final stop in the second overtime with just minutes left before the final buzzer.
Although the Badgers didn’t win the game, a tie against another nationally ranked opponent proved plenty for a team thirsty for momentum.
“Northwestern is a good team, so it was good not to lose,” junior defender and captain Paul Yonga said. “We definitely wish we could have gotten a win, but it’s not bad to get a tie.”
Trask carried Yonga’s thoughts even further.
“This is much more of a benchmark game for us,” Trask said, noting that Northwestern won the Big Ten last season. “We’re never happy to tie, that can’t be the standard … but today I thought we were just as good as they were.”
If that is the case, it may bid well for Wisconsin in the coming weeks. The Big Ten tournament is less than two weeks away, and if they lose to Ohio State Sunday, Wisconsin would likely meet the Wildcats in the conference tournament.
They might have to do it without star defender AJ Cochran, though. Nearing the end of the first overtime, a meaningless Northwestern kick from midfield approached the Wisconsin goal box. The seconds ticked toward zeros, but with a Wildcat sprinting for one last hopeful opportunity, Cochran and senior Kyle McCrudden collided as McCrudden leaped to head the ball, planting his cleats on top of Cochran’s dominant left foot.
The sophomore defender, who had sat out just four minutes all season, was forced to the sideline for the remainder of the match with a toe injury. Cochran will have nine days to rest his injury before the Badgers’ season is on the line at the Big Ten tournament.
The careers of seniors Jerry Maddi and Kyle McCrudden will also be on the line for Wisconsin. The two seniors celebrated Senior Day on Sunday, though McCrudden was the only senior who spent all four years at UW.
McCrudden – the lone senior captain – spent the beginning half of the season battling injuries and a majority of the second half trying to regain his footing within the starting lineup. He has since completed his lengthy trek and will never forget his time spent as a Badger.
“It was a little emotional, to be honest,” McCrudden said. “It’s been a great four years here, and it was nice to get a tie, at least. … The University has been great to me, the team has been great. It has been a great experience.”
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