After a season that didn’t live up to the preseason hype, the Wisconsin men’s soccer team has one last chance to get a win on the road. Sunday, the Badgers will travel to Columbus, Ohio, to play the Ohio State Buckeyes in their last game of the Big Ten season.
The Badgers have a 6-7-4 record on the season but are looking for a boosting victory this weekend. Going into the Big Ten Tournament, Wisconsin is ranked second to last in the conference, only ahead of Ohio State.
“I think the last few games, even though we haven’t gotten all the results we’ve wanted, we’ve definitely been practicing better and we’ve definitely been playing better,” freshman midfielder Drew Conner said. “We’re looking for the win. We keep developing and getting ready for the Big Ten Tournament.”
Ohio State’s record of 6-9-2 this year is comparable to that of the Badgers, making this game a must-win for both teams if they wish to avoid finishing in the bottom spot of the Big Ten.
“OSU is a very tough opponent, especially at home. They beat us 2-0 last year, so it’s a chance for a little bit of payback before the Big Ten Tournament,” head coach John Trask said.
In preparing for the upcoming game, goalkeeper Chase Rau said he wants to keep the ball rolling. Rau has been named Defensive Player of the Week twice now this season.
Despite the personal accolades, Rau emphasized a shutout is his only goal.
“I need to make sure to stay on my guys that are in the midfield and the attack to make sure they pressure up top to make it easier on our defenders so the other team isn’t playing easy balls on us,” Rau said. “Individually I have no goals, just a shutout.”
In regard to the goalkeepers of the team, Trask said having two capable goalkeepers throughout the season has helped both of them improve. But as the regular season approaches its end, he said it is time to choose just one goalkeeper heading into the Big Ten tournament. Rau will be Trask’s starting man in front of the net Sunday.
Ohio State has been succeeding offensively this season, a factor that could present serious trouble for UW’s defense. Senior Buckeyes forward Chris Hegngi is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
“He is starting to hit his stride and he’s physical and as a soccer player, he’s a handful to deal with,” Trask said. “They’ve got some good weapons offensively.”
In addition to Hegngi, sophomore midfielder Brady Wahl has been standing out in his second year on the team. Though a year younger, Conner said Wahl is his best friend from home, as the duo played together on the Chicago Fire Academy Team. Conner said they catch up regularly, adding another layer of competitiveness to Sunday’s matchup and creating an interesting dynamic on the field.
On the Badgers’ end, sophomore midfielder Carl Schneider player has jumped onto the scene in recent weeks and could play a crucial role against the Buckeyes. Trask said he’s experimented with new players at different positions and has been impressed with his team’s ability to adapt to various roles on the team.
“We’re real pleased to see the growth in Carl,” Trask said. “You never know when it’s going to happen with him. We felt it’s really come good for him the last couple weeks and we’re trying to get him a bit more experience.”
Plenty remains on the line for the Badgers’ in their final regular season game, as a loss to Ohio State would mean a last place Big Ten finish for Wisconsin. The Badgers hope the struggles they have had this season will finally come to an end Sunday.
“This is a Big Ten game so it counts,” Conner said. “If we win, it will get us a better seed in the tournament. It’s just like any other game; we are focusing on getting better as a team and regardless of who we’re playing, we still need to get better.”
And a win could also help UW earn a higher seed in the all-important Big Ten Tournament, which starts Wednesday.
“There is also seeding ramifications,” Trask added. “So we’re going to take the best team we can down to Columbus, and we’re going to go after OSU.”