The spring season is underway for the Wisconsin men’s soccer team and, once again, the Badgers’ defense has stolen the show.
Wisconsin opened the spring schedule with a 2-0 win against UW-Green Bay in the McClain center March 15 and continued to hold its opponents scoreless in a 0-0 draw away at Western Illinois April 6.
An important aspect of the spring season is improvement and the defense is using this time to address mistakes it made in the fall.
Wisconsin gave up 22 goals in the 2012 regular season. While this is no more than in their more successful 2011 season, it still leaves room for improvement.
“Our main focus is to keep clean sheets and try to limit the chances the other team has against us and to prevent some soft goals and hopefully come away with a good amount of shutouts,” sophomore defender AJ Cochran said. “Hopefully, that will take us eventually to the tournament, which would be our ultimate goal.”
The defense isn’t alone in its quest for improvement. The offense is also looking for more output than they witnessed this fall, which will surely be aided by the return of senior midfielder Tomislav Zadro from an ACL injury.
A tough injury for the star midfielder to come back from, Zadro could often be seen on the sidelines working to rehab from his injury while his teammates practiced last fall.
“I’ve been working hard trying to get stronger and faster and mentally prepare to play. It’s going well,” Zadro said.
A star player returning from a long-term injury can be a huge boost to a team. Zadro lead the Badgers in both goals (6) and assists (8) in 2011, and is looking to add a spark to an attack that was at times lacking creativity.
“We need to create more chances and hopefully score more goals. We had a problem with that last year,” Zadro said.
Offense is where Wisconsin struggled the most last season. The Badgers scored four fewer goals in 2012 than 2011, and took 22 fewer shots on goal.
Going into this season, however, Wisconsin has a large upperclassmen presence on the roster; something that head coach John Trask thinks could help the team.
“Sometimes, especially when you have a senior group like we do, that motivation knowing it’s their last go-around helps us as coaches,” Trask said. “I’ve been very pleased with the focus and intensity and quality of our training sessions.”
Goalkeeper battle continues
For the UW soccer team, a goalkeeper contest is nothing new. In his rookie season with the team, freshman Chase Rau started 15 games for the Badgers in the fall, making 60 saves, which was8 good enough for third-best in the Big Ten despite splitting time with fellow junior goaltender Max Jentsch. Jentsch was the starter for most of the 2011 season (also starting 15 games), making 56 saves that year.
But as the spring season has progressed, Trask said he has been pleased with the effort shown by the other goalkeepers on the roster as well, giving Jentsch the starting nod in the first two games of the spring season.
“We’ve got quite a battle in goal,” Trask said. “This is a good time for these goalkeepers to be pushing each other. All four of them are competing on a daily basis, which makes them better and makes the team better.”
Coaching experience gained, lost
Trask spent time in Florida this offseason, coaching prospective professional talent at the 2012 MLS Combine. It is not the first time that Trask has worked with some of the U.S.’s best talent, having previously worked with the U-23 National Team as an assistant coach in 2012.
“It was an enjoyable week. High-level players, top-level guys in college and a great coaching group,” Trask said. “I got to speak on some of our players’ behalf, guys that we think maybe the pros, agents, technical directors and general managers should be looking at going forward.”
While Trask gained valuable experience in the offseason, his staff lost some.
After three years working at Wisconsin, assistant coach Phil Presser left UW to coach at the Indiana Fire Academy.
While the loss of a key staff member is never easy to overcome, Trask remains optimistic that he will be able to bring in another assistant coach with new ideas to introduce to the program.
“We’re in the process [of finding a replacement],” Trask said. “Change is inevitable. It was a great opportunity for Phil, we’re going to miss him, but we’re also looking to bring a little fresh blood in here. We’ll bring in someone who hopefully our guys will learn new tricks from. I think it’s a win-win all the way around.”