After taking their undefeated streak to three games against Loyola Marymount Sunday, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team will look to play off their momentum in a matchup with Marquette Wednesday.
Taking on the Golden Eagles (3-4-1) under the lights at the McClimon Complex, the game marks the Badgers’ final opportunity to prepare for Big Ten season, which begins when they play Indiana Friday. After equaling last season’s win total with a 2-1 victory over the Lions, Wisconsin (4-3-1) has displayed a new attacking style of play that should help them as the most important part of the season approaches.
According to head coach John Trask, the offensive players’ familiarity with one another could be a major factor in picking up a victory over Marquette. In a game that saw a new level of connection between standout midfielders and forwards – Tomislav Zadro, Chris Prince and Josh Thiermann – among others, Wisconsin’s offense should take the field with a greater sense of confidence Wednesday.
“You teach defense, you teach principles of play, you teach your shape – the offense is usually the part that takes the longest to realize where someone else is moving, where he wants the ball, when he wants the ball,” Trask said. “We’re just getting better at it – we’re getting the ball to the right guys more often in the right situations, which gives us a lot better chances at winning.”
When UW takes on in-state rival Marquette, they will be lining up against a team on a similar streak of success. With two straight wins over Michigan and Syracuse, the Golden Eagles already have experience playing Big Ten squads this season.
Although the Big East squad currently sits under .500, Marquette is a dangerous team with plenty of momentum heading into Madison. Firing off 141 shots this season as opposed to the Badgers’ 95, they will certainly keep the defense busy protecting the net.
However, after giving up just one goal to LMU and preventing the Lions from scoring in the final minutes, the Wisconsin defense appears to be in top shape.
“To close a game like we did and not give up a late goal really just boosts confidence and is going to help us this season,” junior defender Kyle McCrudden said.
Some of UW’s improved defensive play can be credited to the return of freshman defender AJ Cochran against the Lions, a top recruit out of St. Louis who was out several weeks with a concussion. A player who Trask attributed some defensive weaknesses to over the past several games, Cochran should help the Badgers continue their aggressive defense against the Golden Eagles.
“His ability in the air, his tackling, his competitiveness, the way he gets on other guys to get them focused, those are just all the qualities that he brings to the table,” Trask said. “I think if he wouldn’t have had the concussion, I think we’d have at least another win if not two more wins right now.”
Cochran and the rest of the UW defense will be challenged by freshman phenom James Nortey, a midfielder/forward who leads his team with five goals and 11 points. The key to Marquette’s offensive attack, Nortey’s success against the Badgers Wednesday should be a solid indication of the strength of their defense.
Helping the freshman will be junior forward Andy Huftalin, who ranks second on the team in both goals and points. The Golden Eagles’ potent offensive attack will be a great test for Wisconsin before they play sixth-ranked Indiana in their Big Ten opener.
As the Badgers look to continue their recent success the rest of the year, the players and coaches alike are confident that they are prepared to start winning consistently. As the different aspects of the offense come together and the defense continues to limit opponents’ scoring, the UW men’s soccer squad is ready to take down Marquette and build off of a disappointing 2010 season.
“This year is a lot different than last year in that we just never give up,” Prince, a sophomore forward, said. “We’re a really close team, we all want to win, especially after having a four-win season last season. Everyone’s fighting and I know they’re not going to give up.”