On a cold October evening in front of an announced crowd of just 210, the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team proved to be too much to handle for the Leathernecks of Western Illinois as the Badgers pulled out a 1-0 victory on Tuesday night at the McClimon Complex. The win extended the Badgers’ home-unbeaten streak to 10 games, the longest such streak in the Big Ten.
It felt more like two separate games than halves as the Badgers (9-2-1, 1-1-0 Big Ten) rebounded from taking just seven shots in the first half to put 20 shots up in the final 45 minutes.
“I think the guys smelled that we could get after them in the second half,” head coach John Trask said after the game. “[Western Illinois head coach] Dr. Johnson and his players fought hard and denied us opportunity after opportunity, sliding in front of their goal, blocking shots and good goalkeeping. Compliments to our guys in finding one.”
The difference proved to be none other than senior Tomislav Zadro who scored his third goal of the season, and ninth of his Badger career, off a rebound on his own penalty kick in the 80th minute.
“It was a bad penalty kick,” Zadro admitted after the game. “I was lucky it bounced back and I had the presence of mind to follow it up.”
Zadro’s aggressive play all night, after starting the game on the bench, allowed for the Badgers to keep the ball in the Leathernecks’ end of the field for the majority of the second half. In the 80th minute he was taken down inside the box, away from the ball, to set up the penalty shot.
Trask credited the penalty to all of the hard work his team, and especially his defense, exerted through the first 79 minutes of the match.
“As the game went on, none of their counters amounted to anything,” Trask said. “We snuffed those out quickly and I think that helped us psychologically continue to wear on them. Eventually I think the kid just grabbed [Zadro] because the level of frustration was building with their guys and they began to wonder how long they could hold out before the ball crossed that line.”
Zadro’s aggressiveness was exemplified perfectly on a second-half corner kick where he thought he would catch Western Illinois’ goalie, Yves Dietrich, off-guard and tried to bend the ball directly into the far corner of the net. Dietrich made the save, but many of the fans and even some of the players on the field believed the ball crossed the line before the goalie was able to get his hands on it. When asked about the play after the game, Trask said, “We always argue for those but that would have been really tough on Western Illinois to say that that ball was definitely all the way over the line.”
This was just the third shutout of the season for the Badgers, and as they head back into Big Ten play with a matchup in Ann Arbor, Mich., against the Wolverines on Sunday the team feels confident that they will be heading east after their strongest defensive showing thus far.
“It was kind of a simple game plan,” Cochran said, “but it was just one of those games where we needed to get a goal and we couldn’t give up a goal. If we gave up a goal then anything could have happened.”
All of the Western Illinois (3-10-0, 1-2-0 Summit League) counterattacks were met by a brick wall comprised of David Caban, AJ Cochran, Carl Schneider and Paul Yonga. Coach Trask pointed to the team’s ability to keep its shape and make the plays that they needed to as reasons for shutting down the Leathernecks’ counterattacks. It’s something that the Badgers have not always been good at.
“It’s tough for players this age to have the ball all the time and not have to worry about defense,” Trask said. “It’s just like how when a goalkeeper doesn’t have to do anything for 85 minutes and then makes one big save, you know you’ve got an exceptional goalie. It’s easy to be a goalie when the ball is flying at your net every two minutes because the guy gets in the zone. It’s about being able to stay in-tuned with those little minutes and I thought we did a very good job of that tonight.”
The 1-0 victory marked the fourth time in the past five meetings between these two teams in which that was the final result. The one time the score did not end up as a 1-0 Badger victory was last season when the two teams tied 0-0. Needless to say, the Badgers knew they were in store for a tough match.
“Every time we play them it’s a 1-0 game,” Cochran said. “Regardless of what style they’re playing it is just a grind, a battle. They’ve got a good team and we were fortunate to come out of here 1-0.”