As the old adage goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” and that will surely be the case Wednesday night when the Wisconsin men’s soccer team takes to the pitch against in-state rival UW-Green Bay.
Although the Phoenix (2-8-3, 0-3-2 Horizon League) have had a relatively subpar season to this point, their record will be insignificant when the opening whistle blows. Not only is the game an in-state rivalry, but many of the players from both teams know one another, which should contribute to a highly competitive atmosphere and game according to UW head coach John Trask.
“They’re going to play much better than their record, and that’s what happens when you play in-state rivalry games,” Trask said. “There’s a lot of kids that our players know on their team and they know on our team. It makes for a good, tough environment to play in for our guys.”
The Badgers (4-6-3, 1-2-0 Big Ten) have already played two in-state rivalry games this season against Marquette and UW-Milwaukee, and although Wisconsin lost both games, they were one-goal decisions that went down to the wire. Wednesday’s game against Green Bay should figure to be much of the same, but the Badgers will hope for a much different outcome this time.
Adding to the rivalry is the fact Wisconsin lost to Green Bay late in the season last year, which was a critical blow to its chances of making the NCAA tournament. That defeat has junior forward Chris Prince and the rest of the Badgers excited for the chance to take revenge on the Phoenix, as well as earning bragging rights in this year’s edition of the rivalry.
“We didn’t come away with the Milwaukee win and last year Green Bay actually beat us at their place, so I know all the guys are fired up,” Prince said. “It’s kind of a payback match, and we just have to play like we did against Michigan [Saturday] and come out and want it bad enough.”
The importance of tonight’s game is not just related to the idea that it is a rivalry; it also has large implications for the rest of Wisconsin’s season. Considering the Badgers are two games below .500 with only five games left in the regular season, every game left is essentially a must-win for UW to have a chance at making the NCAA tournament.
For Wisconsin to win out the rest of the season and make the NCAA tournament, it will have to develop some momentum, and with its win against Michigan Saturday, the team has a start on that. Defender Kyle McCrudden said he believes tonight’s game is probably one of the biggest games of the season because it offers Wisconsin the opportunity to build on that momentum as well as form its first winning streak of the season.
“At this point in our season it’s probably one of our biggest games, if not the biggest game, just to get two wins in a row under our belt and really get some momentum going forward,” McCrudden said. “So I think this game is obviously huge and if we can get a win [today] that’ll just help us go into the weekend against Michigan State.”
As for the game itself, it should prove to be mostly a defensive battle, as both squads are hardly prolific scoring teams.
On paper, the Badgers have a slight advantage on both sides of the field, and if there is a weakness they can capitalize on, it is at the offensive end, which is Green Bay’s biggest weakness. The Phoenix allow an average of two goals per game, but with Wisconsin’s struggles on offense this year, the Badgers are focused on defense first. Moreover, UW is not concerning itself with Green Bay’s weaknesses but instead on its own play and continuing the style that has led to the team’s success.
“I think we’re just going to do what we have normally done,” Prince said. “Just be strong defensively and get turnovers in their half, which will lead to a good offense for us.”
Regardless of Green Bay’s record or statistics, tonight’s game will be played out on the field and not on paper. Taking into mind the familiarity between the teams, the in-state rivalry, and the bitter loss Wisconsin suffered last season, there will be no shortage of competition, and the end result should prove to be hotly contested.
“They beat us last year up at their place, and they’re going to be spitting fire tomorrow,” Trask said. “They’re going to want to play well down here in Madison, and the field’s going to be in great shape; it’s going to be a great night for a soccer game.”