Despite any preconceived notions that may exist about soccer being a low-scoring sport, one can expect a high scoring affair Sunday afternoon in Evanston, Ill. when the Wisconsin Badgers travel to take on the Northwestern Wildcats in their final Big Ten road match of the season.
The Badgers (11-3-2, 2-2-0 Big Ten) and Wildcats (9-4-3, 1-2-1) represent the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring teams in the Big Ten, averaging 2.12 and 1.75 goals per game, respectively.
On Wednesday evening at the McClimon Complex, the Badgers took it to Eastern Illinois, defeating the Panthers 5-1. It was the second time this season that the Badgers won by such a score.
Not to be outdone, the Wildcats put on an offensive showing of their own on Wednesday night as they scored four goals in 25 minutes en route to a 4-1 victory over Loyola-Chicago.
The goal differentials in Wednesday’s games are nothing new to either squad as they, again, both rank towards the top of the Big Ten in that category as well. Northwestern is second in the conference with a goal difference of plus-.88 goals per game. Wisconsin is third with a goal difference of plus-.81.
Since 2009 the Badgers are a humbling 1-2-1 against the Wildcats, with all four of the meetings being decided by one or fewer goals and coming down to the wire.
“They’re an excellent team,” Wisconsin head coach John Trask said of Northwestern after Wednesday’s match. “They had a share of the Big Ten championship last year, they’ve been to the Elite Eight, and, over the past 10 years, I think you’d have to say they, along with Indiana, have been the most consistent program in the Big Ten.”
In order to finish the season strong and put themselves in the best position possible heading into the Big Ten Tournament, the Badgers know that they have to focus on playing their game and the rest of the pieces will naturally fall into place.
“We just have to do what we’ve been doing all season,” senior co-captain Paul Yonga said. “Northwestern is a good team so we just have to prepare and come out and doing what we’ve done before, staying strong defensively and then finishing our chances when they come.”
This season, when the Badgers set their minds to something, they do it. So after scoring just four goals in as many games leading up to Eastern Illinois, the team did not hang its heads and instead went back to the drawing board and got back to what was working for them at the beginning of the season.
“We just got back to pushing the ball and putting the pressure on the defense to stop us,” junior midfielder Jacob Brindle, who scored a hat-trick on Wednesday night, said of his team’s play against Eastern Illinois. “Hopefully we’ll be able to continue this against Northwestern and then Ohio State to wrap up the regular season.”
Before focusing on Ohio State Nov. 8, the Badgers need to take care of business against Northwestern and secure a top-seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Badgers have yet to win a conference game on the road this season, and had their lone two road wins this season all the way back at the beginning of September (USF, Florida Gulf Coast).
While the Badgers do not know what their fortunes have in store for them on Sunday, Trask knows that one thing is for certain, “It’s going to be one heck of a soccer game down at Northwestern.”