During the 2016 offseason, Wisconsin men’s soccer sent many of its players to the Premier Development League of the United Soccer League.
It seems that the players made the most of their time there, as the Badgers have come into the season well prepared and more familiar with each other’s play than in the previous two season’s starts.
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Wisconsin (1-1-1) secured a 3-1 exhibition win over Creighton University followed by a season-opening 1-0 win at home over Santa Clara University, two of the most storied programs in college soccer, in late August.
Though the team’s road trip to Florida this past weekend didn’t prove as fruitful as hoped, Wisconsin lost 1-0 to Florida International University and tied Florida Atlantic University 1-1, the Badgers can easily get back on track.
Home vs. Michigan, 7:30 p.m. Friday
Don’t let the Wolverines’ 0-1-3 record fool you, Friday’s game will test the Badgers in every way imaginable.
In each of Michigan’s ties, the games have gone to double-overtime, and its one loss came about in a match where they forced eight saves out of the opposing goalkeeper.
In many ways, Michigan suffers from the same problem as Wisconsin in that they have trouble hitting the back of the net. But where they differ is that the Wolverines generate much more offense and have recorded 42 more shots than the Badgers (22) this season.
Michigan plays a free-flowing offensive game, but when up against Wisconsin’s grinding defensive structure they could be stifled. The Badgers have only allowed 23 shots on goal while taking 22 themselves, compared to Michigan, who’ve allowed 62 and taken 64. The Wolverines’ 16 shots per game are likely to fall after their trip to Madison.
A midfield battle in which Michigan’s attack falls into Wisconsin’s high press is likely to ensue, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be chances. Michigan has dominated possession in all but one of its games this season, and if they draw the Badgers forward, a ball over the top could seal Wisconsin’s fate.
Wisconsin’s key to the game
Defense will be paramount, and if Wisconsin can avoid conceding until halftime it could prove beneficial.
Michigan, while playing well in those three ties and losses, still doesn’t have a win despite posting massive shot totals — and that could very easily be their downfall. A frustrated Wolverines team is likely to press even harder, searching for that elusive win.
If they are being held at bay, Wisconsin’s high press could easily turn a defensive-half turnover into a goal then fall back and hold its shape for the rest of the game and escape with a 1-0 win.