After years of defensive play, the Wisconsin Badgers have shifted gears — and it’s worked.
The Badgers have what is arguably the conference’s most impressive offense, scoring a staggering 25 goals this season in 11 games. The Badgers not only lead the conference in goals this year, but have already scored more goals this season than any other season in the head coach John Trask Era.
Wisconsin scoring is led by senior Nick Janus who has recorded six goals this season second only to Northwestern’s electric forward Joey Calistri who leads the field with 10 goals on the season, averaging nearly a goal a game. The Badgers Jacob Brindle and AJ Cochran also have made the top ten scorers list for the Big Ten this year scoring four and three goals respectively.
Janus is clearly the Badgers’ most consistent threat, however Brindle and Cochran’s offensive prowess is nothing to overlook. Brindle has been able to post four goals while coming off the bench in nearly every match including a goal in each of the last two games before yesterday’s matchup with Western Illinois.
Cochran, an All-American defender, is one of the country’s most dominant players on set pieces. This year Cochran has been able to make his mark on the offensive side of the ball on set pieces — most recently scoring the game-winner with his head against Indiana Oct. 11. His ability to make plays on set pieces has added an extra dimension to the Wisconsin attack.
“If AJ is not the most dominant player in the air in the country,” Trask said. “ I would like to see who is. He never loses a ball in the air.”
Wisconsin’s goals are quality goals as well, often time being set up through extensive passing in the midfield. The Badgers boast the top two assist leaders in the conference in Drew Conner and Tomislav Zadro who have tallied six and five assists, respectively. The two control the center of the field and help create offensive opportunities every game.
Zadro started off the year strong in his returning season after an ACL injury. As the playmaker of the Wisconsin offenses, Zadro tallied a goal and an assist in each of the Badgers first two home games. His performance continued into their five game road trip until falling to a meniscus injury before Wisconsin’s matchup with Penn State.
“Yeah [Zadro] is huge for this team offensively, but Conner has been absolutely incredible filling in,” Cochran said. “He has shown some ability and has held his own against some of the best in the country.”
After Zadro’s injury, Conner made the move to offensive center midfield and began to use his creative ability to make goal-scoring opportunities for the Badgers. Debatably Conner’s best performance came against Marquette where he matched up against one of the country’s top center midfielders in Bryan Ciesiulka and controlled the field.
Zadro and Conner split time at the position in Zadro’s return to the field last Friday against Indiana. The two combined for three assists in the game with Conner setting up two and Zadro one. The two shredded Indiana’s defense, one of the top in the country, to help the Badgers overcome a two-goal deficit to take down the defending National Champions.
“They haven’t had the best luck this year, but [Indiana] is an incredibly good defensive team,” Trask said. “They didn’t give up a single goal in the NCAA tournament last year.”
The Badgers have been able to make the most of their scoring opportunities this year, having taken the third-least shots in the eight-team Big Ten. Seventeen percent of the Badgers shots end up in the back of the net making them the most efficient offensive in the conference and one of the most efficient offensives in the country.
“The coaches have been talking about not squandering goal-scoring opportunities this year,” Janus said. “I think we have been doing a really good job of being efficient offensively this year.”
Wisconsin has been making their mark on the national stage as well. Their 2.27 goals per game average is seventh in the country this year behind soccer powerhouses such as UAB, Winthrop and Cal Poly. They are also ninth in assists and eighth in points per game.
Making the stats even more impressive is the fact that Wisconsin plays in what is arguably the best defensive conference in the country. The Big Ten has always been known for its hardnosed style of play and low-scoring match ups. Wisconsin’s ability to break into the country’s top-10 offensives is something that has surprised and baffled many in the collegiate soccer community.
As the weather gets more unpredictable, cold and wet in the coming months, Wisconsin’s offense will be tested. And though Trask’s philosophy is still focused on team defense, if the Badgers offense continues to perform, Trask will not be able to ignore what has become the Badgers top strength this year.