When the 2013 season began, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team knew one of the most important dates on its schedule was the Oct. 11 meeting with the defending NCAA Champion Indiana Hoosiers. That day has finally come, but it is not under the expected circumstances.
Indiana was projected at the beginning of the season in the Big Ten coaches poll to win the conference and have a good shot at defending their NCAA title, while the Badgers were projected to finish next-to-last. Now, with less than half of the season remaining, the Badgers find themselves owners of a 7-2-1 (0-1) record while the Hoosiers are struggling at 4-6-1 (1-1) and have yet to win a game outside of Bloomington, Ind.
For the Badgers, the record, the preseason poll and their national reputation are not what they are focusing on. It’s all outside noise that can’t do them any good if they allow it inside the locker room.
“Preseason polls don’t mean anything,” senior co-captain Tomislav Zadro said. “We are not trying to prove anything to anyone. We are just focusing on ourselves and taking it one game at a time.”
Indiana, the nation’s preseason number one, now finds itself unranked and toward the bottom of the Big Ten in many categories, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensively, the Hoosiers have allowed 19 goals on the season — six more than any other Big Ten team — giving them the worst goals-against-average per game (1.73) in the conference. Indiana has also failed to record more than one shutout, the only Big Ten team to do so, and their starting goalkeeper, Michael Soderlund, has a conference-low .696 save percentage.
On the offensive side of the ball, Indiana is currently in the midst of a 222:58 minute scoreless streak, with its last goal coming at 37 minutes, 2 seconds in a 2-0 win over Ohio State on Sept. 29. The Hoosiers have been shutout in back-to-back matches for the first time since the start of the 2012 season and for just the second time in the last four seasons.
But the Hoosiers’ tough season thus far won’t keep the Badgers from recognizing Indiana won the national championship just a season ago.
“I don’t think it changes our approach to this matchup at all,” senior co-captain Blake Succa said. “There’s a rivalry because of the connections between the two teams and because they’re Indiana and they think they’re the best team in the world so it gives us that extra motivation to play them.”
As good as the season has been to the Badgers so far, they still know what counts is their in-conference play and, right now, they have proved nothing. Indiana marks their second Big Ten match of the season, and with only five conference games scheduled afterwards, the Badgers need to make a push now.
“Big Ten wins are huge because those are the ones that will help our RPI,” Succa said. “Getting the first Big Ten win under our belt and going from there will be huge for our team morale moving forward.”
The matchup with the Hoosiers is a reunion of sorts for many of the seniors on the Badger roster. Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley held the same position at Wisconsin in 2008 before current head coach John Trask took over. Yeagley’s lone recruiting class now make ups the 13 seniors on the Badgers’ 2013 roster, and they always look forward to facing Yeagley and the Hoosiers.
“It’s always a big game when we play Indiana because a lot of us grew up playing with and against a lot of their players, not to mention the fact that we were actually recruited by coach Yeagley and not coach Trask,” senior co-captain Paul Yonga said.
“A lot of seniors who were recruited by Yeagley take it personally when we play against him and we want to beat him and show him what he missed out on,” Yonga added. “It makes winning that much sweeter.”
Wisconsin hosts Indiana on Friday night at 7 p.m. at the McClimon Soccer Complex. Wisconsin has not lost to Indiana in Madison since 2009, but is only 1-4-1 in the last six meetings with Indiana.