The University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team (7-5-2, 4-2 Big Ten) has battled hard throughout the entire season, holding their own in a difficult Big Ten conference to rank No. 3 in the conference to this point. As they entered the 2018 season, there were questions surrounding how well the team would perform given that they lost several senior starters during the off-season, replacing them with incoming players who hadn’t seen much game time at the college level.
But behind Noah Leibold the team has found success, notching tough wins against Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland. The junior is in his third year at UW after transferring from the Mainz Academy in his home country, Germany.
While Leibold may not fill the stat sheet as much as some other players, the midfielder is tied for the team lead in minutes played (1,352) and also connects the Badger backfield to their attack, Head Coach John Trask said. The head coach also mentioned the amount of work and intelligence Leibold brings to the team.
“[Most fans] don’t realize how good he is, because he makes tactical decisions and is a proven winner who is comfortable in the spotlight,” Trask said.
Over the course of the up and down season the team has developed an identity, improving on and committing to a game plan that has made it challenging for opposing teams to have success against them, Leibold said. For example, the team found a way to pull out a double-overtime victory over No. 18 Michigan Friday, Oct. 19 when Noah Melick found the back of the net in the 108th minute for a 1–0 victory.
But unseen in the box score is the suffocating defense that prevented Michigan from scoring throughout the game, led by the midfielder out of Wiesbaden, Germany.
During a conversation with Leibold, he went on to discuss how he has improved individually in his junior season and grown more into his role with the team.
“I believe I have been able to become a more stable anchor in the midfield, embracing my role as the holding mid to help the team stay calm in certain situations of the game and to keep its shape and not get stretched,” Leibold said.
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Leibold went on to explain how he expects the team to finish out the regular season strong against Northwestern and Ohio State and to be a “fierce opponent” in the Big Ten tournament. He’s clearly a large part of the glue holding the team together, providing valuable experience and leadership on both sides of the ball. Even though this team is filled with young players, they have been tough to play throughout the conference schedule, putting themselves in good position heading into the Big Ten tournament.
Many fans know that the team has made the Big Ten Championship game both of the last two years, winning last year against Indiana, 0-0 (4–2 PKs). The team is obviously hoping for a repeat performance, and it looks like they just might be able to pull it off. But their main obstacle will be a hot Indiana team who has yet to lose in conference play, ranking No. 1 in the nation in the rating percentage index. The Badgers contested Indiana closely in their game earlier in the season falling 3–1.
Trask mentioned that Wisconsin is in good standing in both the Big Ten and nationally when it comes to RPI rankings, where the team ranks No. 41, even though it seems many teams underestimate the fight in this squad.
“[The players have had] good team spirit, pulled for each other, made it all about the team, and have been very welcoming to the new starters,” Trask said.
Trask and Leibold both seem to have high praise for one another, with Leibold explaining that his reason for coming to Madison was a strong first impression with the Badger head coach. Leibold originally met Trask when he and Associate Head Coach Keith Tiemeyer were visiting Germany.
“My first impressions of the coaching staff, the soccer program and the school were very positive,” Leibold said. “The coaches gave me the feeling that I could become an important part of the Badger soccer team.”
Trask had reciprocal praise of Leibold, stating that the junior could certainly play professionally in either Germany or the U.S. Leibold’s work ethic could make a living in either the business world or soccer, and find success in both areas as long as he continues to show the drive he has had for the last three years with the soccer team here at Wisconsin, Trask said.
Leibold and the Badgers have appeared ready for a Big Ten and potential NCAA tournament run of late, going 5-1-1 in their last seven games. Looking at the path ahead, Wisconsin will take on Northwestern Wednesday and The Ohio State University (1-12-2, 0-5-1 Big Ten) Sunday before the Big Ten tournament begins Nov. 9.
Trask, Leibold and the rest of the team will look to improve on their No. 3 Big Ten seed, and hopefully find a way into the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.