The University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team came into this regular season with what were certainly high expectations following a surprisingly successful end to their 2018 season.
With a team full of youth in 2018, the opening games of the regular season saw some definite growing pains come to the surface.
The Badgers began the year by losing four of their opening seven games. In three of those games they failed to score a single goal.
Despite this slow start through seven games, the Badgers quickly got to work turning things around as they won the following three games in a row. These wins included two shutout wins against both Marquette and Michigan State.
The Badgers would then go on to achieve a final regular season record of 9-5-2, with a 5-2 record in the Big Ten to match.
This hard-fought season came on the backs of raw talent that worked its way through the early season woes of inexperience.
The two top scorers for the Badgers in 2018 were Andrew Akindele and Noah Melick, both freshman at the time.
Out of the top five scorers, only one, then senior Isaac Schlenker, departed from the team at the conclusion of last season.
Furthermore, team star and now captain Noah Leibold returned following a landmark season as a midfield leader for the Badgers.
Despite his impressive statistical performance last season, head coach John Trask had even more praise for the skills that weren’t quite as easy to point to on a stat sheet. The Badger Herald interviewed Trask last year.
“[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,” said Trask.
All signs pointed to a clearly improving Badger team. A slow start to the season turned into rampant success late in the year, young talent led the team in scoring and key players were returning to fulfill a leadership role in the coming season.
Despite all these positive indicators, the Badgers seem to have gotten off to yet another slow start this year. Despite whatever returning talent and leadership they may have, the Badgers haven’t performed to their potential yet.
In the four games played so far this season, the Badgers are only 2-2. This record includes a shutout loss to UC Davis at home.
Senior captain Leibold is certainly holding up his end of the deal as he has both played nearly every minute of every game at midfield. Leibold is also one of only four players to have scored a goal for the Badgers this season.
With Leibold doing his job leading the team in the midfield, what gives?
Primarily, the problem seems to be with the Badgers’ attack. Up to this point in the season, their two top scorers of 2018, Akindele and Melick, have attributed little to the team’s score line.
Neither of the two players managed to record a goal in the first four games and only Akindele assisted in the scoring of a goal.
With their two star sophomores failing to produce, the Badgers’ attack slowed to a halt.
If the Badgers are to avoid the pitfalls of last season, namely failing to make the NCAA tournament due to their slow start to the season, they must turn things around offensively.
A fully successful regular season allows for some slip ups late in the season against a strong Big Ten conference its post-season tournament.
Turning their season around now, much as they did last season, still provides the Badgers with the opportunity to make the NCAA tournament if they are able to perform well against Big Ten teams in the regular season and ultimately make an appearance in the Big Ten championship.
Big Ten regular season play does not start until Sept. 27. If the Badgers are to build upon their newly found success from last season, that is the deadline they must meet to re-vamp their attack that has struggled up to this point.
Akindele and Melick, if the team is to improve its current standing, will have to play more influential roles offensively if the Badgers are to break their current pattern of shutout losses in between wins.
Only after that will they be able to return their program to the success it found seemingly out of the blue at the end of 2018.