The Western Illinois men’s soccer team was sent home empty-handed Tuesday night after their matchup against UW, and while a Wisconsin victory against a non-Big Ten rival may seem pretty standard, the history between these two teams shows it was anything but.
“Every time we’ve played them it’s been a 1-0 game. They come to play every time,” junior defender AJ Cochran said. “What style they’re playing, whether they’re going to sit or whether they’re going come at us, it’s just a grind. It’s a battle, you know? They’ve got a good team, and we were fortunate to come out of here 1-0.”
Western Illinois hasn’t been having the greatest season, with a record after last night of 3-10, and seeing Wisconsin’s record is almost the exact opposite (10-3-1), it’s puzzling to figure out why this team always gives them so much trouble.
Redshirt senior Tomislav Zadro chalks it up to Western Illinois’ desire to prove itself.
“Just one of those teams,” Zadro said. “They’ve got a couple good players and they’re playing a Big Ten school, and they’re from the Summit League. I guess that they want to prove themselves, that they can play, and they can play. They’re a good team.”
Struggling with a team that didn’t seem like it would be that tough of an opponent may not be that unusual, according to head coach John Trask.
“As I told my team, we’ve all been involved in games where you’re the dominant team on the field, no one questions that, both teams know it, and you just can’t find your goal,” Trask said.
But Trask has nothing but respect for Western Illinois’ soccer team, especially head coach Dr. Eric Johnson.
“I wasn’t sure if [Coach Johnson] would sit back [or] if he would high pressure us. He’s done different things over the years,” Trask said. “I’ve had a lot of great matchups and played against them in the NCAA tournament before. He’s a good soccer coach, he had those guys bought into doing something tonight and they were pretty darn close to pulling it off. They were making it very, very difficult on us. Compliments to the Leathernecks.”
In the past eight years, these two teams have gone head to head seven times, with six of those resulting in a one-goal game. Last year when Wisconsin and Western Illinois met up in Chicago, neither team could score, settling for a 0-0 tie. The way Tuesday’s game began, it seemed this might be the result once again.
“I was joking with [the team] that by the time the lights come on in the WARF building by tomorrow morning, it looked like the type of game where we might still be out here trying to [shoot] on goal, and have it hit the post or the goalkeeper,” Trask said.
But finally Wisconsin saw an end in sight. In the 80th minute, Zadro drew a penalty kick. This initial kick itself didn’t find the back of the net, but the midfielder capitalized on his own rebound, slipping this second shot past the Leathernecks’ goaltender.
With the one goal out of the way and only ten minutes left, both teams may have been wondering if this would be yet another one-goal game to add to their collection. After another grueling 15 minutes, this year’s contest wound up in Wisconsin’s favor.
With such a close end result for the two teams year after year, it might seem that there is a long-running rivalry between Western Illinois and Wisconsin. In reality, the teams get along very well off the field, despite any tension surrounding game time.
“Some of their players played [junior college] with some of my players,” Trask said. “There are a lot of friends between the two programs.”