University of Wisconsin men’s soccer head coach John Trask is heading into his fifth season as head coach of the program. Last season, he led the program to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 18 years, where the team got its first NCAA Tournament victory since the program won the 1995 national championship. The Badger Herald talked to Trask about seeing his former players in this year’s World Cup, dealing with the large amount of young players on this year’s team and what he expects from the Badgers this season.
Badger Herald: The World Cup has come to a close, and there are a few older guys on this year’s U.S. team that you coached during your time as an assistant in Major League Soccer. What is it like for you to see guys that you oversaw in their younger days in the MLS representing the country in the World Cup?
JOHN TRASK: It’s really exciting. There were nine guys I was familiar with on the initial list of 30. Five of them made the team, and obviously guys like Kyle Beckerman, DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Davis. Some of those guys got some great playing time. It’s just really exciting. Nick Rimando was with us when he was a young goalkeeper in the MLS. So I go way back with a lot of the guys that represented the U.S. and [they] had a great run to get out of the group of death.
BH: Your assistant coach Ian Sarachan was asked to join the coaching staff for the U.S. U-17 Men’s national team training camp from July 5-12. Do you have any comment on what he’s meant to this program’s recent success?
JT: Ian played for me at [the University of Illinois in Chicago]. It’s tremendous to see him acknowledged as one of the top young coaches in the country when they put the staff together. I want to thank Richie Williams and the rest of the staff for bringing Ian in. I know he felt it was a very valuable learning situation. [There will be] long days and a lot of questions as they are getting ready for qualifying next April, but I know Ian really enjoyed working with those players.
BH: Moving on to this upcoming season at UW, you have some big shoes to fill. You lost Tomislav Zadro and A.J. Cochran, offensive and defensive players of the year in the Big Ten last year. Who are you looking at to fill those shoes, both now and a few years down the line?
JT: No question we are looking for big things out of Drew Conner. He’ll be a junior, and he’ll be one of our captains. He was an all-Big Ten performer last year for us. So hopefully, we’ll be able to give him a bit more freedom to make some plays on the offensive end. While different than Zadro, we feel that he can have a huge impact and help carry the load in the midfield and with the goal scoring for us. I’ll also mention Jacob Brindle. Jacob is a player who has been waiting in the wings behind guys like Nick Janus. He had eight goals last year, and he’ll be a senior captain. I feel he will be a huge component going forward. On the defensive side of the ball, we have returned some very important players like David Caban, who is one of our seniors this year. We are going to need these young players — if not all of them, well over half of them — to step in and play major minutes for us and take on important roles for the team. So, while it will be tough on them, it’s also exciting and something I know these young players are looking forward to.
BH: You mentioned Jacob Brindle, who is most likely going to be your biggest scoring threat this year, as he was your second leading scorer last year. Do you think he is ready to take on a leadership role? Has he done anything already to prove that he can be the leader of this team?
JT: We named Jacob as one of our three captains early in the spring, and we’ve discussed it with Jacob. A lot of our scoring punch was Chicago kids and Jacob is as well, and I think he has been waiting in the wings for this moment where he could, not make it his team, but step into the forefront. He’s always had a role where he was usually coming off the bench for us, as he had some very good players who were a year or two older who were in his way, if you want to put it that way, of getting onto the field.
BH: With losing a handful of key players from last year’s team, you are left with only three seniors on the roster this year. How do you approach coaching a team with lot of youth and inexperience?
JT: There is no question that with the type of schedule we’ve put together that we are really going to challenge these young players, beginning with the UIC exhibition game right through the Notre Dame exhibition game. That’s where you learn a lot about your team. You play some of the best teams in the country and you see who seems to have the mental and physical abilities to compete at that level immediately. We feel very good about some of our young players that are already on campus, but from the new goalkeeper coming in, Adrian Remeniuk, all the way up to field to Tommy Barlow and Mark Segbers, we feel very good about the recruiting class that’s coming in. Obviously they’re replacing a lot of experience and a lot of minutes, but that can work in your favor as well. We are very optimistic and looking forward to getting the season kicked off.
BH: Last year, you led Wisconsin to its first NCAA tournament berth in 18 years as well as its first postseason win since taking the national championship in 1995. With expectations increasing, how do you attempt to live up to them especially after losing some key pieces from last year’s breakthrough team?
JT: I think you have to be realistic when you are facing a team that made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years. There are going to be ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and I think we, as coaches, need to be a bit of a guiding light. But at the end of the day, if we can get these guys poised and ready to compete in the Big Ten with our nonconference schedule we are going to feel very good about the future of the program come mid-to-late September.
BH: Another expectation for this team is to keep that home unbeaten streak alive through this season. What is it about McClimon that helps you guys continue to refuse to lose?
JT: Getting a result is something we talk about as a program. We are very excited about it. Our unbeaten streak at home goes back to October of 2012, and I know the guys take a lot of pride in it. And it’s not just our outgoing seniors. It was all the younger players who were a part of this drive. We are at 14 now, and we have two very difficult teams at home to kick off the season in San Francisco and Xavier. If we are fortunate enough to get results against two very good programs, we have a chance to go into the first Big Ten Network game on national TV against the newest member of the conference in Rutgers with a chance to continue the streak. It’s something that we take a lot of pride in as a program, and the longer we can keep this streak going, the better it is for our student fans and for all soccer fans in Madison.
BH: What are your overall goals and expectations for the upcoming season?
JT: I don’t put numbers on goals. I didn’t have a number of 14 on my mind this past year. We go in every game wanting to compete and do well. The key is that we learn to become a better team and that we’re realistic in our expectations. … The nice thing about our schedule this year is that we don’t have win every game due to the [rating percentage index] of the Big Ten, as well as our out-of-conference schedule. If we can keep ourselves above .500, I think we stand a very good chance of getting ourselves back into the NCAA tournament, which is ultimately every program’s goal across the country. If we can blend in some of the new talents and utilize what’s already on campus, we feel very good about having a good season.