The men’s soccer team has an important home game tonight. Not only are they playing one of college soccer’s perennial powerhouses, Indiana, but they are also trying to climb out of a rut.
After starting the season with five straight wins, the Badgers have lost their last three games, rounding their record out to a somewhat disappointing 6-4-1. Their first loss was to University of Illinois at Chicago, 3-1, second to UW-Milwaukee, 3-1, and third to the 17th-ranked Penn State, 2-0.
The loss to Penn State hit especially hard, since it was Wisconsin’s first Big Ten game. During the game, the Badgers were stuck with some unfortunate luck, hitting the post twice and not capitalizing on other chances. Ultimately, they just failed to score.
“Penn State’s a pretty solid team, and they have some great players,” said Badger forward Dominic DaPra. “The big thing was they had a couple great chances and they finished them. We had a couple great chances, and we either hit the post or didn’t finish them.”
The Badgers now focus their attention on the Hoosiers. Indiana is currently the sixth-ranked team in the country. The Hoosiers won NCAA titles in 1998 and 1999 and once again have a very strong squad. Their record thus far is 7-2-0. Last time on the pitch, the Hoosiers trampled the Wolverines 3-0, and they have been playing solid soccer.
The Badgers are not looking to do anything specific against Indiana; they have to concentrate on breaking out of their current pattern. Also, UW’s head coach Kalekeni Banda’s coaching philosophy is not about defending one aspect of a team or worrying about one player on the field, especially against a team like Indiana that has many weapons that can hurt the Badgers. If the Badgers try to defend one or two players in particular, two other players will step up and take over. Banda wants his club to defend as a team and play good team defense.
“I’m more concerned about how we function as a group, as a team,” Banda said. “We’re in a funk right now.”
But DaPra is optimistic about his next opponent.
“I’m not worried about Indiana at this point,” DaPra said. “I’m more worried about what we need to do to get ourselves into a positive frame of mind and to bring back the feeling we had. Since the event of Sept. 11, we just have not played well.”
Banda was asking the team at practice Tuesday to try to revisit everything they felt when they were playing well. He said they first have to figure out what is keeping the team from playing well, then just go out and play.
“Coach said that someone moved the cheese and we have to go find it,” said goalkeeper Moriba Atiba Baker. “Right now we shouldn’t be too concerned about changing so many things. We’ve had chances, but we’ve been unlucky.”
The team has to figure out how to capitalize on their opportunities if they want to beat Indiana tonight.