After executing one of the most memorable comebacks in recent memory Friday night against Indiana, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team will take the field at McClimon Soccer Complex on Tuesday night to face Western Illinois.
While the matchup against the Fighting Leathernecks (3-9, 1-2 Summit League) may seem at first glance like an easy win for the Badgers (8-2-1, 1-1 Big Ten), Tuesday night’s showdown is the prime example of a trap game. That’s because the two teams have a history of tight, hard-fought battles whose outcomes only became known after the final whistle.
The last four meetings between these two teams have seen Wisconsin go 3-0-1, but all three victories were by a score of 1-0.
“They’re a well-coached, good team,” junior defenseman AJ Cochran said. “It’s hard for me to put a finger on it but every game I remember playing against them has always been close and always been a battle that’s come down to the last minute. That program is doing something right and for some reason they’re just a tough side.”
In order to avoid an emotional letdown after the Indiana victory, the Badgers will be leaning heavily on their experience. Head coach John Trask believes that because a majority of his players have been in a situation where they have fallen victim to a trap game, the odds are less likely that they will succumb to it this time around.
Part of the experience this team has is in not looking too far ahead on their schedule. In essence, the key to not losing these games against teams with sub-.500 records is to take each game one at a time.
“Coach Trask has been stressing a lot lately that the most important game of the season is the one that we have at hand,” senior forward Toni Ramadani said. “Each game, it doesn’t matter if it’s Western Illinois or Indiana, we’re going to prepare exactly the same way.”
Preparation is one thing, execution is another and the Badgers are confident that they have what is necessary in order to take care of business. It takes just one word: McClimon.
The McClimon Soccer Complex has been more than kind to the Badgers as they are undefeated (8-0-1) in their last nine home games dating back to last season. For those who were in attendance on Friday night against the Hoosiers, it’s fairly obvious as to why. For the team, they know that McClimon has become a special place to play and they want to honor it the best way they know how: winning.
“We just try to set the culture that we’re not going to lose at home,” Ramadani said. “We’ve had a lot more people coming out to the games and it definitely helps when you see people coming out to support you because it makes you want to win that much more.”
Trask echoed Ramadani’s sentiments and said that he hopes fans will come out to the match against Western Illinois even though it is a mid-week game and the team isn’t playing against the NCAA defending national champions.
For Cochran, playing at home is all about comfort. “Not being in the hotel room, sleeping in your own bed and knowing that your friends and family are going to be at the game supporting you,” Cochran said when asked what factors contribute the success at McClimon. “The field is unbelievable and the environment itself, especially the other night against Indiana, is indescribable.”
In the preseason, the team discussed what they would do if they found success throughout the regular season. Mainly, the team agreed not to be happy with a win and to never take a team lightly.
“We’re not going to get complacent, we’re going to take every game one step at a time and take them all very seriously,” Ramadani declared.
Because they are going up against a team that has been shutout four times in 12 games and has given up two or more goals in eight matches so far, the Badgers are going to hone in and not look past the Fighting Leathernecks.
“Nothing we’ve done up until now makes a difference to Western Illinois,” Trask said. “It shouldn’t make a difference to us. We have to put in the same level of urgency and preparedness to match their intensity and hopefully be good enough to exploit the moments when we’ll have them under the gun.”
The recipe for success this week is straightforward: bring to the field the same focus and intensity that has characterized the season to date, and let exceptional talent do the rest. Cochran already knows this.
“Hopefully we can go into the game,” he said. “Take care of business, and then it’s on to the next one.”