After a strong start to it’s 2011 campaign, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team is looking to pick up a pair of wins this weekend at home against UC-Irvine and Memphis.

Friday, the Badgers (2-1-0) face a talented squad in the UC-Irvine Anteaters (4-0-0), a team ranked No. 9 nationally that should give UW an idea of where it stands across the country. Wisconsin lost to UC-Irvine in another early season matchup last year, but the Badgers are hoping to take down a team that is to a dominant start this season.

UC-Irvine will present a serious challenge to the UW defense, as it’s aggressive offense has already put up nine goals in four games.

“I think for [UC] Irvine at least … they’re fast, they’re tricky, they look pretty good as a team overall,” junior defender Kyle McCrudden said. “I think we just need to defend well, hold our principals in the back and then just kind of keep the ball at times, hopefully get some goals off of that.”

The Anteaters will also fire plenty of shots at the Badgers’ starting sophomore goalkeeper, Ciro Martinez, as they took an intimidating 44 shots in a win over Gonzaga earlier this month.

Although Wisconsin is coming off a challenging ACC road trip during which it picked up an overtime victory over Virginia Tech but fell to Virginia, the coaching staff was pleased with it’s overall performance. Despite giving up four goals to the Cavaliers, the Badgers were able to get 20 shots off against a team currently ranked in the top 25.

“There were a lot of positives in the Virginia game – unfortunately the scoreline didn’t go our way – but that’s why you want to play those top teams,” head coach John Trask said. “And there’s a reason Virginia won the national championship two years ago, and they’re a top-tier program and we learned some good lessons.”

An experienced team led by midfielders and forwards in seniors Christian Hernandez and Miguel Ibarra, along with sophomore Enrique Cardenas, UC-Irvine has no shortage of offense. In addition to the extra burden its offense will place on the defense and goalkeeper, their aggressive style of play will also pose a tough mental challenge for the Badgers.

Against such a potent corps of forwards, one defensive slip-up could have Wisconsin trying to fight its way back into the game.

“We know they have a very strong front four, some very skillful guys, very crafty, intelligent on the ball,” senior midfielder/forward Josh Thiermann said. “Playing against guys like that, you always got to stay clicked in, mentally focused, prepared, because if you click off for just a second, they can do damage.”

In what looks to be their more challenging contest of the weekend, the Badgers will be looking to gain momentum in what would be a big win over the highly-touted Anteaters.

Wisconsin hoping strong defense enough to hold back undefeated Memphis

After squaring off with UC-Irvine Friday, Wisconsin won’t have much time to catch its breath before it plays another undefeated, non-conference squad in the Memphis Tigers Sunday.

Currently sitting at 3-0-0, the Conference-USA opponent will also be playing it’s second game of the weekend when it faces off with the Badgers. Like UC-Irvine, Memphis has not lacked offensive firepower this year, but Wisconsin’s coaching staff has been impressed by UW’s defensive play so far.

“We’re not giving up a lot of quality chances; we’re playing well individually and collectively, defensively,” Trask said. “It’s one of the things that I think is important as we build the program. And we’re also showing that we can go forward and create [good opportunities].”

While Wisconsin may be seeking it’s second consecutive win Sunday at the McClimon Complex, Memphis head coach Richie Grant might still be looking for win No. 111, a total that would make him the program’s all-time winningest coach.

Although the Badgers are generally satisfied with their level of play so far this year, they still feel that they need to work on closing out games. In it’s first loss to Virginia last weekend, Wisconsin held a 1-0 lead at the half but then gave up four quick goals in the second half.

“Guys really having that hunger to go to goal and just put that ball in the back of the net,” Thiermann said. “Because I felt like we had some key opportunities in our last two games where we could’ve put the game away.”

In what looks to be be a tough doubleheader weekend for the Wisconsin men’s soccer team, how the team fares in it’s two games this weekend could set the tone for the rest of its non-conference season. While the Badgers have looked solid so far, coming back from a tough road loss could be critical to their long-term success.