Three years after bringing in the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class according to collegesoccernews.com, Wisconsin men’s soccer hasn’t had much to show from it.
In the seasons since, the Badgers went 8-23-6, haven’t won a Big Ten Tournament game and failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Reasons for the poor performances include, the team was young and inexperienced and there were too many holes to fill after key departures like AJ Cochran. But regardless of what has happened over the past two seasons, the Badgers feel they are ready to put their poor results behind them.
Mark Segbers, a junior forward who finished 2015 with the second-most points for Wisconsin, believes the team will have to adopt a new mindset that places a do-or-die attitude on every game. But as he pointed out, something much more ordinary can lead the Badgers to success — being confident.
“A lot of times we did play well and broke other teams down,” Segbers said. “But in that final third we just couldn’t put the ball away. I think it just comes down to being more confident, more lethal. You have to believe that every chance you get is going to hit the back of the net.”
That approach, Segbers said, is what he feels will make the difference after the Badgers scored just 19 goals in 2015.
Though Wisconsin lost midfielder Drew Connor to graduation, with the likes of Segbers, Tom Barlow and Mike Catalano patrolling and distributing from the midfield, the Badgers are in good hands to continue bypassing opposing defenses.
A solid attack that features 2015 leading scorer Christopher Mueller, and a defense led by New Zealand international Sam Brotherton, will be a potent units to compliment the midfield.
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With all of those pieces in place, the team will hold a higher line so they don’t find themselves on their heels as much as last season, when they were outshot 287 to 187. It’s a tactic which head coach John Trask feels the team is now ready for since they can handle tracking back if they lose possession.
“A lot of [goal scoring] is going to come from practice and how we practice,” Segbers said. “When we do our drills, sometimes we’re not pressing enough and that’s something we’re going to do a lot this year. When we get a team stuck in their final third it can lead to good things.”
When trying to pin opposing teams in their own zones, the Badgers will be more likely to draw fouls, in dangerous positions no less, and be able to take advantage of set-pieces. An athletic team with a high press will also undoubtedly force turnovers and have better counterattacking play, all of which will lead to goals.
But the Badgers don’t want to stop there and are looking to further the damage done by a high press with fluid passing and smart runs off the ball. The group of promising upperclassmen and sophomores, despite some already playing two seasons together, are looking to reach an ever higher level of understanding each other’s play.
“We need to make sure that when we get back to Madison, we’re working on all of our combinations,” Brotherton said. “We’re trying to become a team that’s comfortable playing with each other and can be clever all game.”
It won’t, however, take until preseason to work on furthering that understanding. After qualifying for the Confederations Cup as a member of the New Zealand national team in early June, Brotherton joined Premier Development League side Des Moines Menace alongside fellow Badgers Barlow, Nick Jones and Alex Masbruch.
Des Moines currently sits at the top of the top of the Heartland Division of the PDL, with the aid of Barlow’s six goals, Jones’ two and the undocumented contributions of the others. They are also six points ahead of Segbers’ Chicago Fire U23 squad, also in the same division.
Segbers leads the team with four goals and three assists, adding to the impressive play that the Badgers have showcased this offseason. But while they may be division rivals, the competition is nothing but friendly, Segbers said. He and his teammates will congratulate each other back in Madison, after their PDL games and continue to be a close-knit bunch despite now sporting different colors.
“[Having players in the PDL] is critical,” Trask said. “The PDL does an excellent job of giving these guys the opportunity to play at a high-level all summer long…and [Des Moines head coach Mike Matkovich] has been pleased with the UW guys so far.”
The experience and camaraderie is the perfect combination to achieve what the team so desperately wishes to this fall — a Big Ten Tournament win.