After finishing the regular season, Wisconsin men’s soccer head coach John Trask remained optimistic at his weekly press conference Monday about his team’s chances heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
Wisconsin (6-7-5, 1-3-2 Big Ten) left Columbus, Ohio, with a scoreless draw Sunday, tying Ohio State 0-0. Although a win was preferred, a tie was enough to earn them the six seed in the conference tournament. The Badgers face third-seeded Michigan (8-8-1, 3-2-1) Wednesday in Evanston, Ill.
“Looking forward to playing against a Michigan team that we’ve competed well against over the last couple of years,” Trask said. “While the sixth seed playing the third seed is never easy, we feel pretty good this week going into the Big Ten Tournament.”
The Badgers have a history with the Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament, beating them last year in the first round 2-0 after losing to the Wolverines 1-0 in the semifinal the year before.
One important factor in the success Wisconsin has had this season has been a stingy defensive effort, led by the last line of defense – freshman goalkeeper Chase Rau. Rau was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week for the second week in a row Monday, and the third time this season – a Wisconsin record.
Rau has posted four shutouts in the last five games, culminating in a six-save effort Sunday against Ohio State. Trask praised Rau ahead of the game on Wednesday.
“He’s playing very well,” Trask said. “He’s making the big saves for us, but he’s also playing with a lot of moxie for a freshman.”
Rau has not allowed a goal over his last 261 minutes in goal, and he is third in the Big Ten in saves, tallying 56 in 15 games.
The defense has been very reliable. The offense, however, has been more unstable. The Badgers are scoreless in their last two games – Sunday against the Buckeyes, and Oct. 28 at home to Northwestern in another scoreless tie. If Wisconsin beats Michigan Wednesday, it would face either the Buckeyes or the Wildcats Friday.
UW has a better recent history against Michigan, beating them 2-1 at home Oct. 13. Midfielder Nick Janus and forward Chris Prince each netted a goal that day, twice beating Wolverine goalkeeper Adam Grinwis, who leads the Big Ten in saves with 78.
“If we get one [goal], who knows. We might be able to start rolling,” Trask said. “If we can nip a goal and start to really believe, really good things can happen for this group; we’ve got a lot of experience out there.”
While Wisconsin has shown it may have what it takes to produce enough offense in the tournament, it will face a Michigan team that has won four of its last five games. The Wolverines have only given up four goals in that period, and a single goal in the last three.
Trask maintained if his team wants to succeed in this year’s tournament, the offense must build some kind of rhythm. To put it simply, goals are a necessity.
“We need to find a goal or two,” Trask said. “There’s no way we are going to continue to go through on penalty kicks or not scoring.”
Trask remained positive, however, continually citing the quality play of the defense and how crucial it is at this time of year to play great defense against the best teams the Big Ten has to offer.
“We really preach defense this time of year. As it gets colder and teams get stingier you want to be one of those teams [that play good defense],” Trask said. “You don’t want to be a team that leaks goals.”
The Badgers have looked good against quality opponents the last few weeks and have lost only one in their last six, with two of those matches ending in draws.
Trask made it seem there is an air of positivity and optimism surrounding the men’s soccer team, that UW believes it can make an impact in a challenging path through the Big Ten Tournament.
“Hopefully we can find a goal and continue to play some quality defense, and move on,” Trask said. “We’d like to be in Chicago through next Sunday.”