In a typical hard-fought, physical Big Ten matchup at the McClimon Complex Sunday, Wisconsin held Northwestern to a scoreless draw in a game that could foreshadow a soccer matchup in the Big Ten tournament in November.
Based on the statistics coming into the game, it would have been safe to assume Northwestern (10-4-3, 3-1-1 Big Ten) was the favorite. Up until Oct. 23, after a pair of disappointing losses to Penn State and Northern Illinois, the Wildcats were ranked No. 24.
Not to mention Northwestern currently sits in third place in the Big Ten — behind both Penn State and Indiana — while Wisconsin (6-7-4, 1-3-1) sits second-to-last in sixth place. With both teams at the opposite ends of the standings, it is possible they may meet again in one of the early rounds of the Big Ten tournament.
“I think this game is definitely going to build some confidence for us,” senior forward Jerry Maddi said. “They are a really good team, and it just shows no matter what our record is, we can play against anybody.
“It should give us some confidence, playing a good team like that, heading into the Big Ten Tournament soon.”
The 0-0 draw showcased two offenses in Northwestern and Wisconsin that seemed nonexistent at times Sunday.
UW failed to get a single shot off in the first half and the Badgers’ first shot on goal did not come until the 64th minute, when Maddi slipped a through ball past the Northwestern defense in the path of junior midfielder Nick Janus, who was unable to chip the ball over the goalkeeper.
While the Badgers certainly had their fair share of the possession throughout the game, crucial missed passes in the final third of the field prevented them from ever posing much of a threat for Northwestern sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
“I thought we were in dangerous areas at times and a little bit of decision-making [let us down] — we [tried] to lift the ball when we could splat it across on the ground,” head coach John Trask said. “I told a couple of guys I thought there were some balls in the box to be won that … you’ve got to be willing to fly through the air to win.”
Despite stagnant play from the offense at times against a talented Northwestern team, Trask said the chances the offense did create show just how far they have come over the course of the season. It’s something he hopes will drive the team as they head into the final weeks of the season.
“I think a game like this shows us how close we are [to our goal],” Trask said. “Hopefully [it] spurs on the attacking group to say, ‘Wow, if we just made a little bit better decisions.’”
Badgers miss freshman midfielder
One major absence for the Badgers’ offense was freshman midfielder Drew Conner, who suffered a concussion Wednesday in the 2-0 win over Missouri-Kansas City.
Conner has played a major role for UW this season, recording 1,407 minutes in 16 games for the Badgers — a mark that put him at the fourth most minutes of any player on the team heading into Sunday’s game. Without last year’s leading scorer Tomislav Zadro, who has been out for the season with an injury, Conner became one of the main scoring threats and facilitators for Wisconsin, scoring two goals and adding an assist this season.
While Trask said he would have liked to have a key player like Conner available for the Northwestern game, he also said he thought other players on the team did a good job of making sure the Badgers didn’t skip a beat in his absence.
“Drew is a player that we count on,” Trask said. “He has been on the field almost every minute of every game this season, and I think he would have had a profound impact on the game.
“Some other guys stepped up and made a case for themselves … it’s nice to have players starting to say, ‘Hey, can I be in consideration here, I’m sharpening my blades.’ That’s what you want. Things get interesting when there is healthy competition on the field.”
Part of the reason for the stymieing defenses from both teams was due to the familiarity both sets of players have with each other.
UW has nine players on its squad this year who came from high schools in Illinois — a number that even outnumbers Northwestern’s seven players hailing from Illinois.
As a result, not only have many of these athletes competed against each other, but some of them have also even played on the same team.
“It kind of just makes it a little bit more interesting,” junior forward Chris Prince said. “I have played with probably six of these guys on the other team, I know them really well.
“It definitely makes it more fun to get to battle it out. The past two years have always been really good games.”
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