Rebuilding a successful team is never easy. And while many may believe the Wisconsin men’s soccer team will be in rebuilding mode after losing a key group of seniors from last year’s tournament team, both familiar and unfamiliar names are ready to step into the forefront and lead the team.
Following the departure of players like Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year Tomislav Zadro and AJ Cochran, as well as the team’s leading goal scorer in Nick Janus, the Badgers had some big shoes to fill, especially offensively.
Now the program will have to lean on two players to captain the team to victory: junior midfielder Drew Conner and senior forward Jacob Brindle.
Conner was a playmaking machine last year for UW, as he recorded seven assists, the second highest mark on the team, and received second-team All-Big Ten honors. Brindle scored eight goals for the Badgers last season, even though he only started three of the 20 games he appeared in.
While Conner and Brindle were obvious candidates to be captains of the team because of how they contributed offensively, much more is needed out of a captain both on and off the field.
Head coach John Trask found both players had their own certain intangibles and positive qualities to be a strong leader for his team.
“I think both of them are very well thought of by the members of the team, as well as the coaching staff; both as players and young men,” Trask said. “Jacob is a fantastic student but he is also someone the younger players have always felt confident to go and have conversations with ever since he has been here.
“Drew is that game day type of captain. When adversity starts on the field, Drew is someone that can carry the team a little bit and you need that as well in your captain.”
The captains will face the challenge of leading a large group of inexperienced freshmen players that are getting their first taste of college soccer. Both Conner and Brindle believe that getting those freshmen integrated into the team and finding the team’s identity have been the biggest challenges thus far as the season gets underway.
While both Conner and Brindle have to face the challenge of leading the team as a whole, they both also have personal adjustments and challenges to conquer this season. Conner, who was mostly a playmaker in the midfield last year, knows he will have to step up into a bigger offensive role.
“I think I’m going to get a little more freedom to go forward this year and hopefully get some good looks on goal and get better opportunities to score,” Conner said. “You just do what comes to your mind. We had such a good team last year and had so many different goals coming from so many different players on our team. There were so many goals and assists to go around. But this year I definitely think I have to step up and be one of our goal scorers.”
Much of Brindle’s action and production last season was when he came off the bench. Now, Brindle will have to step into the forefront of the Badger offense, especially with last year’s leading goal-scorer, Nick Janus, no longer on the team.
Nevertheless, Brindle does not believe he really has to make much of an adjustment going into this season.
“I’m really not adjusting anything,” Brindle said. “The only real adjustment is that I get to start the game rather than come off of the bench. It’s not any better or worse either way. Last year we just had a bunch of good players that I was competing for time with. For me, I’m still going in and playing my game. I’m not going to do anything different than what I did last year.”
While both Conner and Brindle have made large contributions offensively in past seasons and will continue to this season, they are not the only two captains. The third, less familiar face that will serve as a captain, is junior defender Adam Lauko.
Lauko has not logged many minutes for the Badgers in his first two seasons, but he was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team in 2012. It was Lauko’s intangibles as a defender and his personal characteristics that made him a strong candidate to be a captain this season in Trask’s eyes.
It is common for a team to have one and even two captains to lead the team, but this Badgers team is doing something different this year by having three different players wear the captains’ armband. However, Brindle said having three of them in the leadership role should not make too much of a difference.
“The goal is to serve as one captain,” Brindle said. “Even though there are three of us, Drew, Adam and I all are pretty much in agreement with what we want out of the team. We want responsibility, holding everybody accountable, and for everyone to know what our goals are throughout the entire season. Even though we are three people, we all have the same goals, ambitions and drives in trying to hold everyone together.”
The three captains face a very daunting challenge in the 2014 season with the departure of 13 seniors from last year’s squad. Such a large exodus meant that Trask had to sign 12 freshman to this year’s team, trying to fill the voids left from the 2013 team that made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.
Brindle, Conner and Lauko will have to step out of the shadows and into the limelight to lead such a youthful squad, but it won’t be just a three-man effort if the Badgers hope to duplicate the season from a year ago.