The UW men’s soccer team just toppled in-state rival Marquette and has defending national champion Indiana visiting this weekend, but the 6-2-1 Badgers are plenty excited about the game that stands in between against Drake Tuesday night.
“Tuesday’s game is the biggest game of the season so far,” senior forward Chris Prince said.
After enduring tough back-to-back losses to Penn State and Gonzaga to close out the September slate, the 1-0 victory last Wednesday against Marquette felt overdue for the team, and now has the Badgers feeling like they’re back in the swing of things.
“Those two losses could’ve been prevented. I thought we were the better team in both those games,” senior defenseman Blake Succa said. “The Marquette game was a big win for us. There was a difference in the locker room before, and [the win] definitely changed the momentum of the team.”
Drake (5-4-2) also took on Marquette earlier in the season, falling 4-1 to the Golden Eagles. But this is no reason for UW to feel overconfident, according to head coach John Trask, who said his team will be facing a much different Drake team than the one Marquette beat.
The Bulldogs have proven they are tough competition by going undefeated in their last few games ever since they began playing freshman goalie Darrin MacLeod, who has allowed just one goal in his five starts. Head coach John Trask agrees that he’s nothing to write-off due to lack of experience.
“When [Drake] made the change in goal looks to be when they turned the corner,” Trask said. “[MacLeod] is a hot goalkeeper, and he looks to be feeling very well of himself.
“It’s going to be a tremendous task, and that’s why we want to play them.”
But UW is also in the middle of a season worth noting. With the way they’ve been playing offensively, Drake’s winning streak could be in danger.
“[This season] is by far the best start we’ve had in my four years,” Prince, a four-year starter, said. “And every game we’re getting better and better. It’s very exciting.”
The stats agree with Prince. UW has already matched its six-win total from last year, and the season is only half finished. Additionally, the Badgers scored a total of 21 goals during the regular season in 2012 and have already racked up 18 thus far in 2013 (not including exhibitions).
Things have been quiet lately, as the Badgers have had about a week off after the match-up with Marquette. Prince pointed out that this could be a possible advantage. Being able to rest up before facing Drake, whereas the team would usually play two games a week, could be just what the team needs to continue playing like they were earlier in the season and last week against Marquette.
The last time the Badgers and the Bulldogs faced off was in 2011 when Wisconsin proved to be the better team, pulling off a 3-1 victory. But Wisconsin isn’t about to hit the field unprepared.
“They look to be a very discipline[d] team. It is going to be a very tight game,” Trask said. “They will match up against us very well but hopefully being at home and having a big result against Marquette will help us out.”
Succa has a similar mindset, adding while UW has a vital conference game Friday night against Indiana to prepare for, right now the team is concentrating on the task at hand.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. Drake is going to be a big game for us,” Succa said.
There is plenty of focus on a seemingly harmless nonconference game, mid-week. But at the end of the day, after weighing all the advantages and disadvantages they might have against Drake, the team agrees playing at home in front of their fans might be their secret weapon. When asked what the team did differently between the Penn State and Gonzaga losses and the Marquette win, redshirt freshman goalie Casey Beyers said the fans make a difference.
“Nothing really changed. I think the mindset back home is different,” Beyers said. “We just love playing in front of the fans.”