Capitalizing on the errors of opposing sides has been all but the strong suit of the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team (2-10-3, 0-4-2) this season. Friday, the Badgers finally cashed in on a sloppy defensive sequence for the Michigan Wolverines (7-4-4, 2-1-3) and escaped Ann Arbor with a 1–1 draw.
Wisconsin has undoubtedly performed beneath the expectations of the fans, the coaching staff and the players themselves thus far in 2019. Managing only two victories through 15 matches, the Badgers are left to wonder what this season could have been as they await the conference tournament, their only hope for further postseason play.
The Wolverines were attacking from the start in front of their home fans, pressuring Wisconsin into a conservative formation from the kickoff. The Badgers would only record a single shot in the opening 45 minutes and had little offensive production beyond that. Possession also favored Michigan, and it seemed as if they would be first to find the back of the net.
After a first half without any goals, however, both teams settled into the match and play evened out. Both the Badgers and the Wolverines fought for attacking opportunities and generated chances at a quicker rate. In the 75th minute, Badger defender Robin Olafsson scored an own goal as his mis-hit made it past goalie Dean Cowdroy, handing Michigan the lead.
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The pendulum would soon swing once again, however, as the Badgers drew a 76th-minute penalty immediately after conceding. Midfielder Noah Leibold struck from the spot to bring Wisconsin back to even terms, vindicating the stellar performance of Cowdroy and making his saves worthwhile. The two quick goals suggested that more scoring could come in the following minutes, but again, Cowdroy managed to keep Wisconsin level, as he tallied four saves on the night.
90 minutes in and still 1—1, the contest would advance to overtime. Wisconsin played on the front foot throughout both OT periods, pushing the Wolverines across the pitch and recording multiple shots on goal. Again, the Badgers showed their potential in the attacking third, moving and passing with impressive chemistry. Despite this elevated level of play and control of the ball throughout overtime, Wisconsin failed to breakthrough, and the game ended on level ground.
While quality supplants quantity, the story for Wisconsin revolves around the number of chances. They have been outshot far too many times — in fact, Wisconsin has won the total shot count in precisely zero matches. Opponents are bound to win if they have twice as many cracks at the net, regardless of the incredible efforts put forth by Cowdroy.
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The Big Ten Tournament is just a couple of weeks away, and the Badgers are beginning to play with an edge on the attacking side of the ball, something we have not seen much of this season. If Wisconsin can manage to control the game with possession, which requires midfield play to be efficient and reliable, the forwards will have plenty of chances to score.
It’s safe to say they will need production to advance. Every team in the Big Ten is well equipped on offense, and the conference features nationally-ranked juggernauts such as Maryland and Indiana, teams the Badgers will likely face early on due to their low seed.
Against Northwestern and The Ohio State University, Wisconsin must see production and efficiency at all levels begin to rise before the regular season comes to a close.
The Badgers will take on the Northwestern Wildcats Wednesday at the McClimon Complex. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.