After a 12-day layoff, the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team returns to action this weekend in the TCU-Adidas Soccer Classic. Since beating the University of Baltimore-Maryland County 4-2 on Sept. 9, the Badgers had their game at Iowa last Friday postponed due to the tragic events in New York and Washington, D.C. That cancellation, combined with a planned week off, leaves the Badgers with plenty of rest for this weekend’s contests.
That rest will be needed, as their first game of the tournament is against the Southern Methodist University Mustangs, currently the consensus No. 1 team in the country. SMU is undefeated at 4-0 and made the Final Four last season. The Mustangs have been dominating at times this season, outshooting their opponents 83-32.
SMU, which returns senior all-Americans Mohamed Fahim and Carl Bussey, had the top-ranked offense in the NCAA last season. Their defense has improved as well under the leadership of goalkeeper Byron Foss, who has only given up five goals this season.
The Mustangs lead the all-time series with the Badgers, 3-2-1. However, the last time the Badgers played SMU, they won 2-0 in a quarterfinal match on their way to the 1995 National Championship. Game time is set for this afternoon at 2:00 p.m.
The Badgers will play the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs at 1:00 p.m. this Sunday. Despite their 1-2-1 record, TCU is a tough challenge for the Badgers, who will surely face a little letdown after playing No.1 SMU.
The Horned Frogs have struggled on offense this season, only scoring four goals in four games. But with their hostile home crowd behind them in a big tournament such as this, defense could take over. TCU is well-equipped at goalkeeper with junior Mike Lahoud, whose goals against average is down nearly a goal from last season to 1.38.
But the Badgers defense has been solid as well, led by Moriba Atiba-Baker, who has only allowed four goals in five games and has two shutouts. Baker matches up favorably against both SMU and TCU, so this weekend might come down to how consistently the offense plays.
As has been the case this season, Wisconsin (5-0) will be led by senior Dominic DaPra, who leads the team with eight goals and 17 points. But other guys will have to step it up and help out the scoring. UW should receive a spark when senior captain Valentine Anozie returns from a season-long leg injury.
It will be interesting to see how the teams respond in their first games since the tragic moments of last weekend. All four teams (the Badgers do not play Memphis) will be playing their first game in 12 days. As a tribute, the tournament will observe one minute of silence before each of the four games to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
In the most basic terms, this is an important tournament for Wisconsin. Despite being undefeated, the Badgers have yet to play a ranked team. By playing the best team in the land as well as a tough team on the road, UW will find out a lot about itself and its potential. With the start of the Big Ten season a week away, a solid weekend would do wonders for its confidence.