Coming off a 2-0 win against Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Sunday, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team heads home this weekend with a 2-2-3 record. The victory over IUPUI and another against Western Illinois, which ended in a 0-0 tie, were both part of the UIC Soccer Classic in Chicago.
The Badgers play host to Penn State in their first conference game of the season Friday, part of the Pac the Mac event in which the men’s and women’s teams will play in a doubleheader. Students gain free admission and a Wisconsin soccer scarf, while all other fans can secure tickets for $1.
Heading into the conference season, head coach John Trask talked about how Wisconsin’s nonconference schedule has prepared them for the rest of the season.
“I think it’s a big part for any sport, getting ready for the Big Ten, it’s a grind,” Trask said in his Monday press conference. “Three games home, three games away, all the teams are very good.”
He also noted the upcoming games will serve an important role in preparing his freshman for their inaugural Big Ten experience. Trask said facing elite teams, like 12th-ranked Georgetown and No. 20 Washington in the nonconference schedule has helped prepare his squad for the conference schedule.
“Good players want to play against good teams and good programs want to see how well they stack up against the best in the country,” Trask said.
“We’re starting to find out more about these kids and who we can trust in the tough games.”
One of those tough games will be Friday against Penn State. But the head coach added despite their 2-3-3 record, the Badgers are in better shape than they were a year ago and possess greater depth across the field, from the backline to the forwards.
He emphasized the strong performance of his defense recently as evidence of such growth.
“We’ve had basically three shutouts in a row,” Trask said. “We’re starting to get back to some of those habits of … solid defending, getting shutouts, giving ourselves a chance to win in every game.”
He is also pleased with the Badgers’ newfound depth at goalkeeper and how it can help UW moving forward. Wisconsin is currently starting true freshman Chase Rau in goal, but he isn’t a lock to hold onto the spot for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve got good competition in goal,” Trask said. “Probably the first year we’ve had that.”
That competition comes from junior Max Jentsch who has seen significant playing time over his first two years. But Trask made it clear Rau has won the goalkeeping job for now, and that there is no “goalkeeping controversy.”
Trask made this decision based on the big saves and confidence Rau has shown early in the season and said a stable, trusted force in the net is crucial to the team’s overall success.
With the goalkeeper battle resolved – at least temporarily – Trask is hoping to build a stronger home field advantage this season, a trend he said the team failed to take advantage of in 2011.
He found a positive in the fact that there’s been a lot more students coming out to the games, who he said have acted as a “12th man” for the team. He intends to reward the students who show up at the McClimon Complex by consistently winning at home.
“We need to make it a bastion – we need to make it our castle,” Trask said of Wisconsin’s home field.
The women’s team will play Michigan State first before the men take on the Penn State Nittany Lions, and both games will be streamed live on UWBadgers.com.